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State v. Cain

Supreme Court of South Carolina

January 5, 2017

The State, Respondent,
Charles Allen Cain, Petitioner. Appellate Case No. 2015-001983

          Heard October 20, 2016


         Appeal from Spartanburg County R. Lawton McIntosh, Circuit Court Judge


          Thomas J. Rode, of Thurmond Kirchner & Timbes, P.A., of Charleston; and Chief Appellate Defender Robert Dudek, of Columbia, both for Petitioner.

          Attorney General Alan Wilson and Senior Assistant Attorney General David Spencer, both of Columbia; and Solicitor Barry J. Barnette, of Spartanburg, all for Respondent.

          FEW JUSTICE.

         Charles Allen Cain appeals his conviction for trafficking in methamphetamine. He argues the State produced insufficient evidence as to the quantity of drugs required for trafficking, and thus the trial court erred when it denied his motion for a directed verdict. The court of appeals found the core of Cain's argument was not preserved for appellate review, and affirmed. We find Cain's argument is preserved, and the court of appeals erred by affirming the denial of the directed verdict motion. We reverse.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         In January 2012, deputies of the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office went to 371 Dakota Street near the City of Spartanburg to serve a bench warrant on Travis Kirby. Charles Cain and Tiphani Parkhurst were renting a bedroom in the house and answered the door. After some discussion, Cain gave the deputies permission to enter. While searching for Kirby, the deputies discovered equipment used to manufacture methamphetamine. The deputies called Beth Stuart, a forensic chemist employed by the Sheriff's Office, to investigate the scene. Although Stuart did not find any methamphetamine, she did find evidence of ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine. This evidence included empty packages of Sudafed, which Stuart determined once contained 19.2 grams of pseudoephedrine. Using a scientific theory known as stoichiometry, [1] Stuart calculated that 19.2 grams of pseudoephedrine could theoretically produce 17.67 grams of methamphetamine, if Cain manufactured the methamphetamine with maximum efficiency. Based on Stuart's analysis, the State charged Cain and Parkhurst with trafficking in methamphetamine under subsection 44-53-375(C) of the South Carolina Code (Supp. 2016). Under that subsection, a defendant is guilty of trafficking if the State proves the defendant "knowingly . . . attempts . . . to . . . manufacture . . . ten grams or more of methamphetamine." Id.

         Cain made a pretrial motion to dismiss, a directed verdict motion, and he renewed the directed verdict motion at the close of the evidence, all on the basis that the State did not present sufficient evidence to prove the required quantity of methamphetamine to establish trafficking under subsection 44-53-375(C). The trial court denied the motions. The jury found Cain and Parkhurst guilty of trafficking in methamphetamine.

         Cain appealed to the court of appeals raising three issues. He argued (1) the trial court erred in admitting Stuart's testimony into evidence; (2) the trial court erred in denying Cain's directed verdict motion because the State did not prove Cain had custody and control of the means of manufacturing the methamphetamine; and (3) the trial court erred in denying Cain's directed verdict motion because the State did not present sufficient evidence of the requisite quantity of methamphetamine for a conviction for trafficking. The court of appeals reached the merits of the first two issues, and affirmed. State v. Cain, 413 S.C. 508, 527, 533, 776 S.E.2d 374, 384, 387 (Ct. App. 2015). The central issue of Cain's appeal was the sufficiency of the State's evidence of quantity-the third issue-which Cain described in his brief to the court of appeals as "whether an attempted trafficking conviction may be based solely on expert testimony that it was 'theoretically' possible that the accused could have committed the offense." The court of appeals found this issue was not preserved for appellate review. 413 S.C. at 530-31, 776 S.E.2d at 385-86. We granted certiorari only to review the court of appeals' decision as to the third issue.[2]

         II. Evidence of Quantity

         Subsection 44-53-375(C) permits the State to prove trafficking based on a variety of factual scenarios. One element the State must prove in all scenarios is the quantity of "ten grams or more." Id. Commonly, the State meets its burden on this element by proving the quantity of the methamphetamine itself. In this case, however, the sheriff's deputies found no methamphetamine. Therefore, to prove Cain guilty of trafficking the State was required to prove he attempted to manufacture the requisite quantity. The State relied exclusively on Stuart to prove the element of quantity, as there is no other evidence in the record of the quantity of methamphetamine Cain attempted to manufacture.

         Cain argues Stuart's testimony is insufficient because it proves only the theoretical quantity of drugs a person could have produced at maximum efficiency; it does not prove the quantity Cain could realistically have intended to manufacture. Without evidence showing Cain could actually have produced ten grams or more of methamphetamine with the equipment and ingredients he had at his disposal, Cain argues, the trial court erred in denying his motion for directed verdict. We agree.

         As background to her testimony about quantity, Stuart described the equipment and ingredients found at the scene, and how Cain would have used them in the "one pot" method of manufacturing methamphetamine. As Stuart explained, a person using the one pot method fills a two-liter drink bottle with various ingredients until a chemical reaction takes place. The bottle Cain used was an empty liquor bottle. The first step of the one pot method is to crush Sudafed pills and put the pseudoephedrine into the bottle. Then, Cain would have dumped ammonia, lighter fluid, lithium strips from batteries, and water into the liquor bottle and waited for a chemical reaction. Stuart explained that after an hour or so, Cain would have poured the liquid out of the liquor bottle into a separate bottle. That liquid is methamphetamine base. To produce the end product, Cain would have dumped muriatic acid, which is commonly found in drain cleaners, and salt into another bottle to produce acid gas. When the acid gas is mixed with the liquid base, it forms a white powder that is the end product-methamphetamine. Stuart testified Cain's method did not take place under laboratory conditions, and admitted that calling his operation a "meth lab" was a "misuse of the word lab."

         As to the quantity of methamphetamine that could be produced from this method, Stuart and the solicitor had the following exchange:

Q: Now, if you take the 19, 200 milligrams of either the Sudafed you found or the empty Sudafed that had been there . . . and you were going to attempt to manufacture methamphetamine, and you got a one hundred percent yield . ...

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