Pubdate: Thu, 22 Jan 2004
Source: Courier-Journal, The (KY)
Copyright: 2004 The Courier-Journal
Author: Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


Suspects Now Must Be Caught With All Elements

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A prosecutor appealed to lawmakers yesterday to make
it easier to take methamphetamine makers to court and curb what she
described as an increasingly sophisticated and violent business.

Gale Cook, commonwealth's attorney for Calloway and Marshall counties,
wants the legislature to resolve a dilemma that the Kentucky Supreme
Court created for prosecutors last year. The court ruled in June that
a suspect must be caught with all - not just some - ingredients needed
for the drug.

"Meth" cases were already problematic for law-enforcement officials
because the drug is made with legal ingredients and equipment, such as
cold tablets and disposable batteries.

Compounding the problem for prosecutors is that authorities don't
always find all the ingredients or equipment, Cook said.

She cited a Marshall County case in which authorities uncovered a meth
lab but didn't find a key component - the fertilizer anhydrous ammonia.

The fertilizer had been stored in a freezer. It was not there when
police opened the freezer, although "it almost knocked them over from
the odor," said Cook, president of the state commonwealth's attorneys

But without the fertilizer, prosecutors couldn't press charges for
meth manufacturing under the court ruling, she said.

"If the circuit judges believe that ... you have to have every item,
it's got to be bubbling and smoke coming out of the smokers, that's an
issue that prosecutors face," Cook told the House Judiciary Committee.

The panel heard testimony but took no vote on a proposal that amounted
to a byproduct of multiple meth bills. It says possession of the
necessary equipment and at least two ingredients, or precursors, can
be used as evidence of an intent to manufacture meth.

Kentucky law already forbids possession of a precursor with intent to
manufacture meth. The new legislation would set higher penalties -
five to 10 years in prison for a first offense and 10 to 20 years for
later offenses.

W. Robert Lotz, representing the Kentucky Association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers, said such a change would mean that possession of a
precursor would carry a longer sentence than possession of the drug

He also said the enhanced penalty might deny diversion - an
alternative to jail time - for some offenders at the "low end" of meth

Another proposal would make it illegal to possess at least two of the
necessary chemicals or two items of equipment with intent to
manufacture meth. Violators would face long prison sentences. Lotz
said intent "is a very nebulous concept," and innocent people could be
arrested for possessing common household items.

Cook said meth production has evolved into a lucrative

She said a Calloway County man now jailed in Wisconsin is charged with
possessing more than 12,000 pseudoephedrine pills, a meth ingredient.
The man was to return to Murray with the ingredients and expected to
make a $10,000 profit for one week's work, Cook said.

Meth manufacturers serve as wholesale producers, who in turn use
highly organized distributors employing "enforcers" to collect debts,
sometimes through violence, she said.

"With meth, we are moving into an area of organized crime that we have
not had," Cook said.

Rep. Paul Bather, D-Louisville, said the measure was just part of the
equation in tackling a pernicious drug problem. Treatment for
offenders is an important component that has been "shortchanged," he
said. "Treatment is cheaper than incarceration, and it's more
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