In a recent Texas drug case, the court of appeals affirmed the trial court decision, holding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion, that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a new trial was not so clearly wrong as to lie outside that zone within which reasonable persons might disagree, and that the evidence presented was sufficient for the trial court to find appellant guilty of the charged offense. The appellant was charged with possessing two vape cartridges containing THC and entered a plea of not guilty and waived his right to a jury.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the appellant was encountered by police officers as they responded to a criminal trespass call from an L.A. Fitness location in August 2019. One of the police officers performed a consent search of the appellant’s personal property and discovered a small box containing two THC vape cartridges in his fanny pack. The labeling on the box indicated that the content was created with medical cannabis. The police officer took the evidence to the police station, where it was inventoried. Following the completion of a drug lab submission form, the evidence was sent to Armstrong Forensic Laboratory (Armstrong) for analysis. Armstrong was asked to test the fluid for controlled substances, including delta-9 THC, one of the isomers of THC. In Texas, a delta-9 THC concentration threshold of 0.3 percent distinguishes whether a substance is hemp, which is legal, or not. Dr. Kelly Wouters, Armstrong’s director, testified that the fluid in each vape cartridge tested positive for delta-9 THC above the threshold amount.
The State introduced into evidence a lab report prepared by Wouters and a case filed, which contained bench notes, raw analytical data, calibrations on quality control methods, and backstops to ensure the testing was performed correctly. The defense counsel questioned Wouters on cross-examination regarding a number of things, including the chain of custody for the evidence at Armstrong. Wouters testified that the case file did not include any chain of custody details, but the names of four or five individuals at the lab who could have touched the evidence and information regarding who received and analyzed the samples could be made available. The names were made available to the defense counsel, but no further questions were asked about the work performed and nobody else from the lab was called to testify. The trial court found the appellant guilty of THC possession as charged in the indictment and sentenced him to six years of confinement.
On appeal, the appellant advances six claims, the first four of which contend that the State violated Article 39.14 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure by withholding evidence having a logical connection to a consequential fact from a motion for a new trial. The fifth issue raised by the appellant contends that his conviction rests on false evidence in violation of his due process rights. And his sixth issue contends that the evidence present is insufficient to support the trial court’s conclusion that he possessed delta-9 THC at a concentration of greater than 0.3 percent at the time of his arrest. On the first four issues, the appellate court found that the trial court’s denial of the appellant’s motion for a new trial was not so clearly wrong as to lie outside that zone within which a reasonable person might disagree, and therefore that the court did not abuse its discretion. On the fifth issue, the appellate court similarly found that the trial court’s denial of the motion for a new trial did not fall outside the zone within which a reasonable person might disagree. Finally, on the sixth issue, the appellate court found that the evidence was sufficient for the trial court to find the appellant guilty of the charged offense. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
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