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State v. Hotchkiss

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 2

November 7, 2017

STATE OF WASHINGTON, Respondent,
v.
LAFE WILLIAM HOTCHKISS, II, Appellant.

          MAXA, J.

         Lafe Hotchkiss, II appeals his conviction for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver - methamphetamine.[1] Law enforcement discovered 8.1 grams of methamphetamine and $2, 150 in cash in a search of Hotchkiss's residence, and during questioning Hotchkiss admitted that he was selling the methamphetamine to several customers.

         Hotchkiss argues that, under the corpus delicti rule, there was insufficient corroborating evidence independent of his incriminating statement that he intended to deliver methamphetamine. As a result, he argues that the trial court could not consider his statement and that without the statement there was insufficient evidence to convict him of possession with intent to deliver.

         We hold that the quantity of the methamphetamine combined with the amount of cash in Hotchkiss's possession provided sufficient corroborating evidence of intent to deliver independent of Hotchkiss's incriminating statement to satisfy the corpus delicti rule. Accordingly, we affirm Hotchkiss's conviction.

         FACTS

         Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on Hotchkiss's residence in Vancouver. During the search, Hotchkiss admitted that he had an "8-ball" - approximately 3.8 grams - of methamphetamine in a safe and provided the officers with the code. Report of Proceedings at 271. He also stated that he procured about one 8-ball of methamphetamine every day and broke it down, and estimated that he had about 10 customers. Inside the safe, officers found 8.1 grams of methamphetamine and $2, 150 in cash. The State charged Hotchkiss with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver - methamphetamine.

         At a bench trial, officers testified about finding the methamphetamine and cash and about Hotchkiss's statement that he had 10 methamphetamine customers. After the State rested, Hotchkiss requested that the trial court disregard the testimony regarding his incriminating statement under the corpus delicti rule because there was insufficient evidence corroborating his statement. The court reserved its ruling on the corpus delicti issue.

         Hotchkiss then testified that he and a woman who lived with him used three or four grams of methamphetamine per day. He also testified that the cash in the safe came from other people living at his residence, who paid rent of $1, 150 per month in cash, and from his employment. He claimed that any statement he made to the officers about selling methamphetamine referred to his actions 20 years earlier.

         On rebuttal, an officer with extensive experience dealing with methamphetamine users and sellers testified that a typical methamphetamine dose is 0.2 to 0.4 grams. He also testified that it would be very rare that someone would possess eight grams of methamphetamine solely for personal use.

         The trial court found that the quantity of methamphetamine in Hotchkiss's possession combined with the amount of cash recovered with the drugs was sufficient corroborating evidence to satisfy the corpus delicti rule. The court then found Hotchkiss guilty of possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver.

         Hotchkiss appeals his conviction.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Corpus Delicti Rule

         The corpus delicti rule prevents the State from establishing that a crime occurred solely based on the defendant's incriminating statement. State v. Green, 182 Wn.App. 133, 143, 328 P.3d 988 (2014). The State must present corroborating evidence independent of the incriminating statement that the charged crime occurred. Id. Without such corroborating evidence, the defendant's statement alone is insufficient to support a conviction. State v. Dow, 168 Wn.2d 243, 249-51, 227 P.3d 1278 (2010).

         We review de novo whether sufficient corroborating evidence exists to satisfy the corpus delicti rule. Green, 182 Wn.App. at 143. In making this determination, we view the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the State. Id. And we consider the totality of the independent evidence. See State v. Aten, 130 Wn.2d 640, 661, 927 P.2d 210 (1996). The independent evidence by itself need not be sufficient to support a conviction or even show that the offense occurred by a preponderance of the evidence; it must only support a logical and reasonable inference that the charged crime has occurred. Id. at 656.

         In addition, the Supreme Court has stated that to satisfy the corpus delicti rule, "the independent evidence 'must be consistent with guilt and inconsistent with a [ ] hypothesis of innocence.' " State v. Brockob,159 Wn.2d 311, 329, 150 P.3d 59 (2006) (quoting Aten, 130 Wn.2d at 660). The court stated that independent evidence is insufficient to corroborate a defendant's incriminating statement when it" supports 'reasonable and logical inferences of both criminal agency and noncriminal cause.' " Brockob, 159 Wn.2d at 329 (quoting Aten, 130 Wn.2d at 660). "In other words, if the State's evidence supports the reasonable inference of a criminal explanation of what caused ...


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