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  Steroids Prison Time II
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Prison Time

By Rick Collins, J.D.

Q: What's the heaviest prison sentence you ever heard a guy get for juice?

A: That dubious distinction goes to Donnie Keith Wall, who was convicted of possessing steroids with the intent to deliver them. I found his case in an online search. A Texas jury assessed his punishment at 35 years in prison!

Wall was stopped by the police for driving without a seat belt. He falsely identified himself first by one name, then by another. Finally, he produced an expired license in his own name, and a roadside computer check revealed an extensive criminal record, including a methamphetamine possession charge. Noting that Wall had apparently rented the vehicle under a fictitious name and seeing "drug-related items" in the car, the officer asked for permission to search. Wall refused. He was detained until a search warrant could be obtained, and a variety of oral and injectable anabolics were recovered.

Wall challenged the search and contested the quantity for which the state was prosecuting him. Under Texas law, the penalties for unlawful possession of controlled substances are based on the aggregate weight of the substances in grams. Possessing with intent to deliver between 200 and 400 grams of anabolic steroids is a felony of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment for life or for any term between 5 years and 99 years.

The crucial issue was how to quantify steroids under Texas drug laws, which call for including in the aggregate weight any adulterants and dilutants. Why? In a cocaine or heroin case, it's obvious. You'd weigh all the aggregated powder because that's how the product is commonly bought and sold. If you buy an ounce of coke, it's an ounce of powder, period. The purity is a different issue. When it comes to anabolic steroids, it's a whole 'nother thing. Sure, injectables contain water or oil and tablets have binders and fillers. But people buy and sell gear based on the milligrams of androgens, not the quantity of oil or total weight of tablets.

Under the Texas case of Cawthon v. State [849 S.W.2d 346, 349 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992)], when adulterants and dilutants make up a part of the weight of a controlled substance, one thing the State must prove is that the adulterants and/or dilutants were added to the controlled substance with the intent to increase the bulk or quantity of the final product. Wall's lawyer, Lawrence Cerf, Esq., of Houston, made all the right moves by calling an expert who testified that the non-steroid liquid (i.e., oils and/or water) and solid substances (tablet binders and fillers) in which the steroids were found were not adulterants or dilutants added to the steroids to increase the bulk. Rather, he stated that the non-steroid portions were simply carrying agents. The State, however, called its own expert who claimed that the non-steroid portions were added with the intent to increase the bulk. While reasonable for powdery substances like cocaine, where the black market quantity bought or sold inherently includes various cutting agents and fillers, such a claim seems inappropriate if not ludicrous for anabolic steroids.

Nevertheless, the jury - located in a county that sits on the pipeline of narcotics from Mexico and is known for heavy sentences in drug cases - bought the prosecution's arguments. In fact, Wall would have been sentenced to life in prison but for one holdout juror out of the twelve! On appeal [Wall v. Texas, 878 S.W.2d 686 (Tex. Crim. App. 1994)], Wall challenged the legality of the search warrant, but lost. The Court of Appeals of Texas rejected his argument that he was illegally detained until the warrant had been issued, holding that an arrest is legal when a driver lacks a valid driver's license. As to the quantity issue, the Court shrugged, claiming to be "jurists, not chemists." They affirmed the jury's conviction. A further appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was denied. While Wall was no choirboy, his harsh sentence was primarily based on the misapplication of traditional narcotics quantity concepts to anabolic steroids.

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