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State v. McLaughlin

Supreme Court of Maine

July 12, 2018

STATE OF MAINE
v.
KASHAWN MCLAUGHLIN

          Argued: March 7, 2018

          Jamesa J. Drake, Esq., and Rory A. McNamara, Esq. (orally), Drake Law, LLC, Auburn, for appellant Kashawn McLaughlin

          Janet Mills, Attorney General, and Katie Sibley, Asst. Atty. Gen. (orally), Office of the Attorney General, Augusta, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          GORMAN, J.

         [¶1] Kashawn McLaughlin appeals from a judgment of conviction of aggravated trafficking in schedule W drugs (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 1105-A(1)(D) (2017), entered by the trial court (Kennebec County, Murphy, J.) after a jury trial.[1] McLaughlin argues that pursuant to section 1105-A(1)(D) the State must prove the weight of pure cocaine base in isolation and that the court erred by failing to include that requirement in its instructions to the jury. Because we conclude that section 1105-A(1)(D) does not require the State to prove the weight of "pure" cocaine base, we affirm the judgment.[2]

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] Viewed in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict, the record supports the following facts. State v. Adams, 2015 ME 30, ¶ 2, 113 A.3d 583. On November 2, 2015, agents from the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA) received information from a confidential informant indicating that McLaughlin was staying in and selling drugs out of room 175 at the Senator Inn in Augusta. Based on this information and their observation of individuals coming and going from room 175, MDEA agents sought and obtained a search warrant for the room. The search warrant referred to McLaughlin by name.

         [¶3] At around 6:30 p.m. that evening, with the help of the Augusta Police Department, MDEA agents executed the search warrant for room 175. Upon executing the warrant, the officers and agents secured and identified six individuals in the room, including McLaughlin. In the room, agents observed and seized, among other items, over $10, 000 in cash; two firearms and ammunition; a dish in the microwave with white and yellow residue; three digital scales; a plastic bag containing a hard, light-brown material; fourteen individually sealed bags with a hard, off-white material; and an individual bag containing a large "ball" of hard, off-white material. All six individuals in room 175 were arrested.

         [¶4] The State conducted a controlled substance analysis on several of the items seized from room 175. The analysis confirmed that the residue on the dish contained cocaine base; all three digital scales had residue containing cocaine and heroin; the light-brown material weighed sixty-five grams and contained heroin; the total weight of the hard, off-white material in the fourteen bags was 3.4 grams and at least one of the bags contained cocaine base; and the large "ball" of hard, off-white material weighed 100.6 grams and contained cocaine base. The controlled substance analysis identified the presence of heroin and cocaine base but did not determine the precise weight of each drug in isolation.

         [¶5] On January 21, 2016, a grand jury indicted McLaughlin on five charges stemming from his November 2, 2015, arrest. Among the charges were Count 1, aggravated trafficking in schedule W drugs (Class A), namely cocaine in the form of cocaine base, 17-A M.R.S. § 1105-A(1)(D), and Count 2, aggravated trafficking in schedule W drugs (Class A), namely heroin, 17-A M.R.S. § 1105-A(1)(H) (2017).[3] A jury trial on the charges took place over three days from November 1 to November 3, 2016. On the first day of the trial, the State orally moved to amend Count 2 to a charge of unlawful trafficking in heroin (Class B), 17-A M.R.S. § llO3(l-A)(A) (2017), which the court granted without objection by the defendant. At trial, two of the individuals arrested with McLaughlin testified that McLaughlin knowingly trafficked in what he knew to be illegal drugs on November 2, 2015.

         [¶6] At the close of trial, the court provided several instructions to the jury, including the following instruction related to Count 1: "Cocaine base includes any mixture or preparation that contains any quantity of cocaine base, which is the alkaloid base of cocaine." McLaughlin did not object to this instruction. The jury found McLaughlin guilty of Count 1, aggravated trafficking in cocaine in the form of cocaine base and Count 2, unlawful trafficking in heroin, on November 3, 2016. On July 11, 2017, the court sentenced McLaughlin to twenty years in prison with all but twelve years suspended and four years of probation on Count 1, and a concurrent six-year prison sentence on Count 2. McLaughlin appeals only the judgment of conviction for aggravated trafficking in cocaine in the form of cocaine base. See 15 M.R.S. §2115 (2017); M.R. App. P 2(b)(2)(A) (Tower 2016); see also M.R. App. P. 2B(b)(1).[4]

         II. DISCUSSION

         [¶7] McLaughlin argues that the court erred by instructing the jury that "[c]ocaine base includes any mixture or preparation that contains any quantity of cocaine base." He contends that 17-A M.R.S. §§ 1102(1)(F), 1105-A(1)(D) (2017) require the State to prove the weight of pure cocaine base in isolation- not the overall weight of the mixture or preparation that contains some quantity of cocaine base.

         A. Standard of Review

         [¶8] Because McLaughlin did not object to the jury instructions at trial, we review the court's jury instruction regarding cocaine base for obvious error. See State v. Daluz, 2016 ME 102, ¶ 51, 143 A.3d 800. "When we review for obvious error, we review for (1) an error, (2) that is plain, and (3) that affects substantial rights." Id. (quotation marks omitted). If we conclude that these three conditions are met, "we will exercise our discretion to notice an unpreserved error only if we also conclude that (4) the error seriously affects the fairness and integrity or reputation of judicial proceedings." Id. (quotation marks omitted).

         [¶9] To determine whether the court erred by instructing the jury on cocaine base, we must interpret-for the first time-the definition of "cocaine" provided in 17-A M.R.S. § H02(1)(F), in conjunction with the phrase "cocaine in the form of cocaine base" as used in the aggravated trafficking statute, 17-A M.R.S. § 1105-A(1)(D). See State v. Pinkham, 2016 ME 59, ¶ 19, 137 A.3d 203. "We review questions of statutory interpretation de novo," State v. Christen, 2009 ME 78, ¶ 12, 976 A.2d 980, and our standard for interpreting statutes is well established:

In interpreting these provisions, we first look to the plain language of the provisions to determine their meaning. If the language is unambiguous, we interpret the provisions according to their unambiguous meaning unless the result is illogical or absurd. If the plain language of a statute is ambiguous-that is, susceptible of different meanings-we will then go on to consider the statute's meaning in light of its legislative history and other indicia of legislative intent. In applying these principles, we examine the entirety of the statute, giving due weight to design, structure, and purpose as well as to aggregate language. We reject interpretations that render some language mere surplusage.

State v. Dubois Livestock, Inc., 2017 ME 223, ¶ 6, 174 A.3d 308 (citations omitted) (quotation marks omitted). When, as here, we are "interpreting a criminal statute, we are guided by two interrelated rules of statutory construction: the rule of lenity, and the rule of strict construction." Pinkham, 2016 ME 59, ¶ 14, 137 A.3d 203 (quotation marks omitted). If the Legislature's intent remained indecipherable after using the tools of construction available to us, the rule of lenity would require us to resolve any ambiguities in McLaughlin's favor. See State v. Stevens, 2007 ME 5, ¶ 16, 912 A.2d 1229; United States v. Wells, 519 U.S. 482, 499 (1997) ("The rule of lenity applies only if, after seizing everything from which aid can be derived, ... we can make no more than a guess as to what Congress intended." (quotation marks omitted)).

         B. The Statutes and Their Interpretation

         1. Plain Language

         [¶10] As with all statutory interpretation, we begin with the statutory language while "giving due weight to design, structure, and purpose." Dubois Livestock, Inc., 2017 ME 223, ¶ 6, 174 A.3d 308 (quotation marks omitted). The Maine Criminal Code, title 17-A, comprises five parts. The statutes establishing drug-related crimes are found in part 3, chapter 45, entitled simply "Drugs." The chapter opens with two statutes containing definitions and schedules of drugs that apply to the entire chapter. See 17-A M.R.S. §§ 1101-1102 (2017). The Legislature defined "cocaine" in the second of those statutes, section H02(1)(F):

F. Cocaine means:
(1) Coca leaves, except coca leaves and extracts of coca leaves from which cocaine, ecgonine and derivatives of ecgonine and their salts have been removed; and
(2) A mixture or preparation that contains any quantity of any of the following substances:
(a) Cocaine, its salts, optical and geometric isomers and salts of isomers;
(b) Ecgonine, its derivatives, their salts, isomers and salts of isomers; or
(c)Cocaine base, which is the alkaloid form of cocaine,

         [¶11] In the sections following section 1102, the Legislature set out various types of drug crimes-possession, trafficking, furnishing, and aggravated forms of trafficking and furnishing. See 17'-A M.R.S. §§ 1103, 1105-A, 1105-C, 1106, 1107-A (2017). Intentional or knowing possession of any amount of cocaine is a crime, although the amount possessed, the existence or lack of any prior convictions for possession, and whether the cocaine is in the form of cocaine base will determine whether the crime is a Class D, C, or B offense. See 17'-A M.R.S. § 1107-A. In addition, intentionally or knowingly trafficking in any amount of cocaine is a Class B crime, 17-A M.R.S.§1103(l-A)(A), and possession of fourteen grams or more of cocaine or four grams or more of cocaine in the form of cocaine base "gives rise to a permissible inference under the Maine Rules of Evidence, Rule 303, that the person is unlawfully trafficking in scheduled drugs." 17-A M.R.S. §1103(3)(B). Trafficking in cocaine, Class B, is elevated to aggravated trafficking, Class A, [5] if the individual trafficks in cocaine

• to a child as a customer;
• with a child as an assistant;
• while having one or more convictions for "engaging in substantially similar conduct";
• while in possession of a firearm;
• on a school bus or near a school or safe zone; or
• when "[d]eath is in fact caused by the use of that ...

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