Submitted by Del Norte County DA Dale Trigg to Facebook
There has been considerable public discussion about the John Horner case. I will offer an explanation here because there is quite a bit of misinformation and misunderstanding out there. To those willing to have an open mind and consider more than what they have read in the Triplicate over the last few days or heard on the street, I offer the following:
The Triplicate ran misinformation in the paper Thursday about Horner’s four year old child being found in “close proximity” to the meth. After the Sheriff and I both corrected them on that yesterday, they inexplicably still ran it again today. I do not know if the “close proximity” line was misreported by the Sheriff’s Office or misquoted by the Triplicate but I do know that it was misinformation. The child was nowhere near the meth. In fact, the child was not even home. No evidence was submitted to me about how long the meth had been in the sealed container in the closed drawer where it was located. It could have been left there minutes or weeks earlier. We don’t know. Either way, when the detective who investigated the case and I talked on the phone, he told me that a child endangerment charge probably would not get past a preliminary hearing where the burden of proof is significantly less than proof beyond a reasonable doubt that would be required to convict at a jury trial. I agreed, so I did not file that charge.
I charged possession only in this case because the detective who investigated the case told me that he could not testify that the meth was possessed with the intent to sell based on all of the evidence in this case. With my expert witness telling me that’s how he would testify, how could I ethically file that charge? Quantity is merely one piece of circumstantial evidence to try to prove intent. It is not determinative. That’s not the law. No other indicia of sales were present to provide circumstantial evidence of intent to sell. Conversely, there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to support that it was for personal use.
I trust and rely on the detective’s opinions as an expert in the field. He trusts and relies on my expertise in analyzing the applicable law. While we do not always agree on every case, we work well together and respect each other. After discussing the evidence with him, we both agreed that in this case we could not prove intent to sell beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury. Every case is different and is based on looking at all of the evidence as a whole. By way of example, a few months ago he investigated and I successfully prosecuted possession with intent to sell where less than half as much meth was involved because there was evidence that proved intent to sell.
I opposed Prop. 47 because it took away my discretion as a prosecutor to charge based on the circumstances of a particular case. Before Prop. 47, I could charge various offenses, including possession, as either misdemeanors or felonies depending on the circumstances. There was a check in place in that the judge could disagree with me and simply convert my felony into a misdemeanor if he/she thought I overcharged it. Prop. 47 took all of that away. I can no longer charge felony possession unless I can prove intent to sell. Prior to Prop. 47, I would generally charge anything more than a gram as a felony. This case would have been charged as felony possession if the voters had not taken that option away from me.