How not to get charged with selling meth

In Minnesota’s Lyon County, police found methamphetamine, a torch, a scale, pipes, plastic baggies, and other paraphernalia in a man’s home. Is that enough to charge him with intending to distribute the drug?

The Minnesota Court of Appeals today said it does not, and reversed the conviction of a man.

The case stems from the arrest of Gerald Hanson. Police found “three glass pipes, an attachment for a propane torch, a propane tank, and a number of plastic baggies containing white residue. From the bedroom, they seized a plastic plate with white residue, a plastic bowl, a plastic spoon, and a glass pipe. They also seized numerous plastic baggies and a razor blade that they found in a dresser drawer. From the bathroom, they seized a glass pipe and a bag with 23.6 grams of a white substance.”

He was convicted and sentenced to about 8 years in prison largely on the testimony of a member of an interagency gang and drug task force who said the items were all the type of things you’d find used by a drug dealer, even though they could also be used by someone buying drugs for personal use, his lawyer said.

But the Minnesota Court of Appeals today said the circumstantial evidence in cases like this needs to prove an intent to sell drugs beyond a reasonable doubt. It suggested a wad of cash — not found in the police search of Hanson’s home — might have tipped the scales in the favor of prosecutors. Or “solvents, tools, latex gloves, coffee filters, aluminum foil, packages of Sudafed, lithium batteries, rubber tubing, a blender, thermoses, and fan . . . a mirror, phone cards, and an electronic scale.” None was found.

What about the razor blades and baggies. “Plastic baggies and razor blades by themselves do not prove intent to sell,” the court said. “They could just as reasonably indicate Hanson’s intent to separate drugs that he purchased for himself.” It said bags with even amounts of drugs inside might be another story.

The rest of the evidence admitted in the case could easily be explained by an argument that Hanson was merely using meth, not selling it, the court said.

Here’s the full opinion of the court.

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