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State v. Tryon

Supreme Court of Idaho

March 2, 2018

STATE OF IDAHO, Plaintiff-Respondent,
v.
GRACIE JEAN TRYON, Defendant-Appellant.

         2018 Opinion No. 16

         Appeal from the District Court of the Third Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and for Canyon County. Hon. James C. Morfitt, District Judge.

         The district court's judgment of conviction is vacated.

          Eric D. Fredericksen, State Appellate Public Defender, Boise, for Appellant. Ben P. McGreevy argued.

          Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, Boise, for Respondent. John C. McKinney argued.

          BEVAN, Justice

         Gracie Jean Tryon ("Tryon") appeals her conviction for possession of a controlled substance. Tryon contends that the district court erred when it admitted certain statements regarding the identity of the alleged controlled substance. Tryon claims the admission of these statements violated her constitutional right to confront witnesses against her because the declarant was unavailable and she did not have a prior opportunity to cross-examine him. Tryon also asserts that the State did not present sufficient evidence to support a conviction for possession of a controlled substance.

          II. FACTS AND PROCEDURE

         At approximately 10:00 p.m. on February 1, 2016, a narcotics detective was patrolling the neighborhood of North Indiana in Caldwell, Idaho. The detective was watching a house he had visited three or four times before to assist in misdemeanor probation visits. The detective also testified that he had previously found drugs and drug paraphernalia at the same house.

         While in the neighborhood, the detective saw a Ford truck that was parked on the street near the house drive away. He testified that he followed the truck, observed that the truck failed to make a complete stop at two stop signs, and then pulled the truck over. The driver was identified as Carl Ringcamp and the passenger, Tryon, told the detective she and Ringcamp were boyfriend and girlfriend.

         When the detective approached the driver's side of the vehicle, he testified that he noticed the faint smell of marijuana. Based on the odor, he asked Ringcamp to exit the vehicle and follow him to the back of the truck. After a short conversation, Ringcamp was taken into custody and placed in the back of the patrol car. Another officer arrived, and when Tryon exited the truck from the passenger side, the detective testified he overheard Tryon say she was not going to allow them to search her purse. The detective asked her about the marijuana odor and about a marijuana pipe that Ringcamp claimed to have left on the seat. Tryon admitted it was a "weed pipe" and that she had it in her pocket. The detective searched Tryon and found a cylinder pipe or e-cigarette.

         When the detective searched the truck, he found the following: (1) a small purse with stems and bits of black residue located in the passenger side door panel; (2) a large purse on the passenger side floorboard that was open and packed full of items; (3) a black case that sat on top of everything in the large open purse; (4) two hypodermic syringes and two glass pipes in a purple Crown Royal bag that was inside the black case, with one of the pipes having a white residue in its burnt bottom; and (5) a small blue plastic case next to the Crown Royal bag that held a baggie with a white crystallized substance.

         The State charged Tryon with one count of possession of a controlled substance, under Idaho Code section 37-2731(c)(1), and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia, under Idaho Code section 37-2734A. Tryon pled not guilty and proceeded to a trial by jury.

         At trial, the detective testified that seventy to eighty percent of the time when he finds methamphetamine during an investigation, he also finds syringes or pipes. Here, the syringes, pipes, and the white crystalline substance were "right next to each other." During direct examination the detective was asked whether or not the white crystalline substance he found looked like methamphetamine; he answered "Yes."

         The State did not present laboratory tests that identified the white crystalline substance as methamphetamine. Additionally, the State could not locate Ringcamp at the time of Tryon's trial and, therefore, he was unavailable to testify. Nevertheless, over an objection by Tryon's counsel on the basis of her right to confrontation, and after an offer of proof by the State outside of the jury's presence, the district court determined the statements made by Ringcamp while he was in custody were nontestimonial and permitted the detective to testify about those statements. The State argued the detective's testimony offered proof the substance was methamphetamine. The detective testified:

While he was in the back of my car, I asked him whose meth it was and he stated it wasn't hers . . . He gave me a couple other responses as well . . . He said again it wasn't hers. And then, he later said, "It was mine. Okay."

         On cross-examination, the detective testified that he did not submit the glass pipes, syringes, or baggies for DNA testing or fingerprinting. The detective also did not get a blood or urine sample from Tryon to test whether or not she had methamphetamine in her system. Instead, the State relied solely on circumstantial evidence to prove that the substance was methamphetamine. In fact, the State's case-in-chief relied, in part, on the testimony of the detective, who testified he had dealt with methamphetamine on a weekly basis in approximately 100 cases during his three years with the Caldwell Police Department's "Street Crimes Unit." Through his training and experience, the detective further testified that he knew: 1) how to identify methamphetamine (a white crystallized substance, small crystals, and some powder); 2) methamphetamine had little to no odor; 3) how it was packaged (in large sandwich baggies, smaller zip-lock baggies, and "tear offs" of plastic shopping bags that ...


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