In a recent Illinois appellate decision, the defendant appealed after being convicted of aggravated participation in methamphetamine manufacturing. He was charged with seven counts related to methamphetamine manufacturing. At trial, the judge asked the jurors not to conduct independent research on the case. A prosecutor told the jury she anticipated testimony from a police officer that the offenses happened within 1,000 feet from a church.
The prosecution put forward a police officer as a witness. He testified he was trying to serve a warrant on someone else in a nearby apartment building when he smelled a chemical odor that he thought might be connected to methamphetamine manufacturing. The church was nearby. The officer testified about how the defendant became a suspect and what they found when searching the premises. The house where the materials for manufacturing meth were found was right behind the church.
A sheriff testified about how close the courthouse was to the area where the manufacturing happened, and the judge again reminded the jury they shouldn’t do independent research. The sheriff said he was sent to help the police department with what they thought was a meth manufacturing lab.
After a recess, the person who lived at the house where the meth manufacturing materials were found testified. She didn’t testify about where the house was but testified about her arrest and guilty plea. Similarly, forensic scientists didn’t testify about where the house was with respect to other buildings.
During the defense, the defendants asked for specific documents to be admitted that showed one of the witnesses had pled guilty to possessing the meth manufacturing materials. He also moved for a directed verdict, arguing that the prosecution hadn’t presented enough evidence to show those materials were connected to him. This motion was denied.
The defendant denied owning or possessing the materials except for drain cleaner, which he said the witness had given him to unclog her toilet. He claimed he hadn’t participated in manufacturing meth, and not close to a church.
On the next morning, the prosecution dismissed certain counts. The jury was instructed that to convict the defendant of aggravated participation in manufacturing meth, it would need to find the manufacturing was within 1,000 feet of a place of worship. The defendant was found guilty of several counts but not found guilty of possessing a meth precursor.
At sentencing, the defendant again argued that there wasn’t enough evidence against him related to the counts for which he was convicted. The court found that the participation in manufacturing and unlawful possession of materials convictions merged with the aggravated participation count, so the defendant was only sentenced for that. He was sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment, after which he would be on a three-year mandatory supervised release, as well as a concurrent sentence of 10 years followed by two years of mandatory supervised release. These sentences had to be 75% served.
The defendant appealed the conviction for aggravated participation in methamphetamine manufacturing, based on insufficient evidence that the building operated as a place of worship, and argued that therefore his conviction had to be reduced to simple participation.
The appellate court explained that the defendant was convicted under the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act (720 ILCS 646/15(b)(1)(H)). A place of worship under this statute was defined as a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other building used mainly for religious worship.
The appellate court looked at past case law to determine what was meant by “place of worship,” and it found there was a temporal requirement that the place needed to be used as a place of worship on the date of the offense. The prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of aggravated participation in manufacturing meth within 1,000 feet of a place of worship. The conviction was reduced, and the case was sent back down.
You should consult an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you are charged with a crime involving controlled substances or domestic battery. Each case is different, and an experienced lawyer can make sure you present a strong defense. James Dimeas is an award-winning Chicago drug crime and domestic battery attorney and an author with more than 24 years of experience. If you are charged with a drug crime in Illinois, contact me in Cook (312-229-5500), DuPage and Kane (630-504-2096), or Lake (847-696-6458) County for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.
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