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CARTER, ANTHONY

PD-0575-19 09/11/2019

“In a sufficiency analysis, may a reviewing court uphold a conviction where the offense is defined by technical elements beyond the understanding of an ordinary factfinder if no evidence on the elements was presented at trial?”

Carter was convicted of possession of a controlled substance—a synthetic marijuana called Chilly Willy—with intent to deliver.  In an attempt to keep pace with the proliferation of new drugs, the Legislature added to its list of named controlled substances new substances classified within certain chemical “structural classes.”  In this case, the State was required to prove Carter possessed “any compound containing a core component substituted at the 1-position to any extent, and substituted at the 3-position with a link component attached to a group A component, whether or not the core component or group A component are further substituted to any extent.” Tex. Health & Safety Code § 481.1031(b)(5).  Carter was convicted even though no witness testified explicitly to the requisite placement of core or link components in Chilly Willy’s structure.

Carter highlighted that absence in his sufficiency challenge.  The court of appeals affirmed. It acknowledged that the testimony could have been more clear but, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the verdict, it found enough references to chemical structures, classes, and combinations that, in context, permitted a rational jury to convict Carter beyond a reasonable doubt.

Carter argues that the highly technical element at issue does not lend itself to proof by reasonable deductions from general chemistry testimony because ordinary jurors do not have the expertise.

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