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What You “Need to Know” to Help Make Meth

Posted On: December 21, 2012 by Marc Neff

In United States v. Munguia, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 24294 (9th Cir. Nov. 27, 2012), Appellant was charged with drug conspiracy and possession. She was alleged to have purchased a significant amount of pseudoephedrine at the direction of one of her co-defendants. Pseudoephedrine is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter cold medications, including Sudafed, Claritin-D, and similar cold-and-allergy medications. Pseudoephedrine is also a methamphetamine precursor, and is therefore strictly regulated.

The key issue at trial was whether Munguia knew or had reason to know that the drugs she purchased were being used to manufacture methamphetamine. Given this focus, she requested a jury instruction explaining that “reasonable cause to believe” must be evaluated from her perspective, based on her knowledge and sophistication. The District Court refused her request. On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the district court erred in failing to give defendant’s requested jury instruction and that the error was not harmless. The instruction given by the district court provided that “reasonable cause to believe” had to be evaluated from the perspective of a hypothetical reasonable person rather than from the perspective of defendant. The “reasonable cause to believe” standard of § 841(c)(2) required a jury to evaluate scienter through the lens of the particular defendant on trial. The jury therefore had to be instructed to consider the knowledge and sophistication of the particular defendant on trial, not that of a hypothetical reasonable person not before the court. The error was not harmless because it was not clear beyond a reasonable doubt that a rational jury would have found defendant guilty absent the error. The appellate court reversed Munguia’s convictions.

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Posted in: Drug Crimes