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State v. Harper

Court of Appeals of Oregon

February 13, 2019

STATE OF OREGON, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
TRENA ANNJELIC HARPER, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted November 21, 2017

          Washington County Circuit Court C152016CR; Eric Butterfeld, Judge.

          Ernest G. Lannet, Chief Defender, Criminal Appellate Section, and Sarah De La Cruz, Deputy Public Defender, Offce of Public Defense Services, fled the brief for appellant.

          Ellen F. Rosenblum, Attorney General, Benjamin Gutman, Solicitor General, and Leigh A. Salmon, Assistant Attorney General, fled the brief for respondent.

          Before Ortega, Presiding Judge, and Powers, Judge, and Garrett, Judge pro tempore.

         Conviction on count one for possession of methamphetamine reversed and remanded; otherwise affirmed.

         Case Summary: Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for possession of methamphetamine, ORS 475.894, arguing that the trial court erroneously denied her motion for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA) and incorrectly instructed the jury. Both assignments of error rely on defendant's contention that the state was required to prove that she knew that the illicit substance she possessed was methamphetamine. Held: The trial court did not err in denying defendant's MJOA, but it did err in instructing the jury that the state "does not need to prove that the defendant knew the specific identity of the substance." The text of the statute does not clearly indicate "a legislative intent to dispense with" the culpable mental state. ORS 161.105(1)(b). Thus, the identity of the substance as "methamphetamine" is a material element of the offense to which the required mental state of "knowingly or intentionally" applies. ORS 161.095(2).

         Conviction on count one for possession of methamphetamine reversed and remanded; otherwise affirmed.

          [296 Or.App. 126] GARRETT, J. PRO TEMPORE

         Defendant appeals a judgment of conviction for possession of methamphetamine, ORS 475.894, raising three assignments of error.[1] We reject the first assignment without discussion and write to address the second and third assignments, in which defendant argues that the trial court erroneously denied her motion for a judgment of acquittal (MJOA) and incorrectly instructed the jury. Both assignments of error rely on defendant's contention that the state was required to prove that she knew that the illicit substance she possessed was methamphetamine. We agree with defendant's interpretation of the statute and therefore reverse and remand her conviction on count one for possession of methamphetamine.

         Where, as here, a challenge to the denial of a MJOA "turns on questions of statutory construction," we review for legal error. State v. Girard, 284 Or.App. 845, 847, 395 P.3d 645 (2017) (citing State v. Hunt, 270 Or.App. 206, 210, 346 P.3d 1285 (2015)). "Then, based on the proper construction of the statute, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the state to determine whether a rational fact-finder could have found the elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Holsclaw, 286 Or.App. 790, 792, 401 P.3d 262, rev den, 362 Or. 175 (2017). We also review the trial court's jury instructions for legal error. State v. Sparks, 267 Or.App. 181, 195, 340 P.3d 688 (2014), rev den, 357 Or. 325 (2015) (citing State v. Barnes, 329 Or. 327, 333, 986 P.2d 1160 (1999)). "A trial court commits reversible error when it incorrectly instructs the jury on a material element of a claim or defense and that instructional error permits the jury to reach a legally erroneous result." Id. (citing Wallach v. Allstate Ins. Co., 344 Or. 314, 326, 329, 180 P.3d 19 (2008)).

         The facts relevant to our review are undisputed. Defendant was arrested following an altercation with a family member. During an inventory search of defendant's purse, officers found methamphetamine and a methamphetamine [296 Or.App. 127] pipe. Defendant was charged with possession of methamphetamine, ORS 475.894(1).[2]

         At trial, defendant testified that, at the time of the search, she did not know that the substance in her purse was methamphetamine. She testified that she believed the substance was "crackle or shatter or some type of THC product" left in her purse by friends. Deputy Iverson, one of the arresting officers, testified that he formed the belief at the scene that defendant was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time. He based that belief on defendant's behavior-she was agitated and hostile, had rapid arm movements, was sweating, and her speech was animated- which, according to his training and experience as a drug recognition expert, was consistent with methamphetamine intoxication. Deputy Zaugg, another arresting officer, testified that after the substance tested positive for methamphetamine at the scene, defendant did not appear to be surprised when Zaugg informed her that she was being charged with possession of methamphetamine.

         Defendant moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that she lacked the requisite mental state under ORS 475.894(1) (making it "unlawful for any person knowingly or intentionally to possess methamphetamine") because she did not know that the substance in her purse was methamphetamine. After her MJOA was denied, defendant objected to the state's proposed jury instructions on the same ...


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