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Hughitt v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas

September 25, 2019

SHANNA LYNN HUGHITT, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS

          ON STATE'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW FROM THE ELEVENTH COURT OF APPEALS BROWN COUNTY

          Newell, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Keasler, Hervey, Richardson, Yeary, Keel, Walker, and Slaughter, JJ., joined. Keller, P.J., concurred.

          NEWELL, J.

         Shanna Lynn Hughitt was charged with and convicted of engaging in organized criminal activity ("engaging") based on the predicate offense of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The issue here is whether that offense-possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver-is a valid predicate offense for the crime of engaging.

         The issue turns on whether the phrase "unlawful manufacture, delivery" as it modifies "controlled substance" in Section 71.02(a)(5) of the Texas Penal Code references the offense of "possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver." If it does, then possession with intent to deliver is a predicate offense. If not, then it is not. The court of appeals concluded that the words "manufacture, delivery" were inconsistent with the offense of "possession with intent to deliver." Consequently, the court of appeals held that possession with intent to deliver was not a predicate offense for the crime of engaging. We agree and affirm.

         I. Background

         Shanna Lynn Hughitt was living with Kevin Sliger, a self-described drug addict and methamphetamine dealer. The Brown County Sheriff's Office was conducting an investigation into methamphetamine distribution in Brownwood, Texas. In furtherance of that investigation, the Sheriff's Office executed a search warrant at Hughitt and Sliger's home.

         When executing the warrant, police found Sliger in the dining room with illegal drugs on his person. Hughitt was found in a bedroom with about one gram of meth and a glass pipe under her clothes. There was also an ounce of marijuana in the bedroom closet and a gallon-sized ziploc bag with meth residue under the mattress. Other items found in the house included cash, drug packaging, rolling papers, syringes, scales, a digital police scanner, and a large amount of MSN "cut."[1]

         The State charged Hughitt with the offense of engaging predicated on committing the offense of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.[2] Hughitt filed a motion to quash the indictment, arguing that possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver is not a predicate offense under the engaging statute. In other words, prior to trial, Hughitt asserted that the indictment failed to allege the offense of engaging.[3] The trial court denied the motion. Hughitt proceeded to trial, and a jury found her guilty. The trial court sentenced Hughitt to 18 years' imprisonment.

         Hughitt appealed, arguing, among other things, that the trial court erred in denying her motion to quash the indictment. The court of appeals agreed, holding that possession with intent to deliver is not a predicate offense under the engaging statute.[4] The court of appeals reasoned that the engaging statute only lists manufacture or delivery of a controlled substance as relevant possible predicate offenses-not the distinct offense of possession with intent to deliver.[5] The court further explained that incorporating possession with intent to deliver into "unlawful manufacture, delivery, . . . of a controlled substance" in Section 71.02(a)(5) would be inconsistent with the Health and Safety Code's definitions of "manufacture" and "delivery."[6] Thus, the court of appeals in this case vacated Hughitt's engaging conviction and dismissed the indictment because the indictment failed to allege an offense under the engaging statute.

         The State Prosecuting Attorney's Office filed a petition for discretionary review with this Court. The SPA argues that the court of appeals erred in vacating the conviction and dismissing the indictment. The SPA asks us to hold that possession with intent to deliver is a predicate offense under the engaging statute. We decline to do so.

         II. Standard of Review and Applicable Law

         "An 'indictment' is the written statement of a grand jury accusing a person therein named of some act or omission which, by law, is declared to be an offense."[7] In other words, an indictment must state facts that, if proved, show an actual violation of the law.[8] The sufficiency of an indictment is a question of law.[9] When reviewing the denial of a motion to quash turns solely upon the issue of the sufficiency of the indictment, we review the trial court's decision de novo.[10]

         Generally, an indictment that tracks the language of the applicable statute will satisfy constitutional and statutory requirements.[11] The first step in this analysis is to identify the elements of the offense.[12] Here, the State argues that the predicate offense of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver can be an element of the offense of engaging. Hughitt argues that it cannot. To determine who is correct, we must analyze the engaging statute to determine whether the indictment alleges the necessary elements of the offense charged.

         Our precedents hold that, when interpreting a statute, we seek to effectuate the "collective" intent or purpose of the legislators who enacted the legislation.[13] We read the statute as a whole and give effect to the plain meaning of the statute's language, unless the statute is ambiguous or the plain meaning leads to absurd results.[14] To determine plain meaning, we look to the statute's literal text and construe the words according to rules of grammar and usage.[15] We presume that every word in a statute has been used for a purpose and that each word, clause, and sentence should be given effect if reasonably possible.[16]

         III. The Words "Manufacture, Delivery" in Section 71.02(a)(5) Do Not Reference the Distinct Offense of "Possession of a Controlled Substance With Intent to Deliver"

         Section 71.02 of the Penal Code makes it an offense to engage in organized criminal activity.[17] A person commits that offense if the person "commits or conspires to commit one or more" predicate offenses (with the specific intent described in the statute).[18] Part (a) of Section 71.02 lists the predicate offenses for engaging. Subsection (a)(5)-the subsection at issue here-lists as a predicate:

unlawful manufacture, delivery, dispensation, or distribution of a controlled substance or dangerous drug or unlawful possession of a controlled substance or dangerous drug through forgery, fraud, misrepresentation, or deception.[19]

         Here, only the first clause of (a)(5) is at issue. Both parties assert that the statutory language-"unlawful manufacture, delivery, . . . of a controlled substance"-is unambiguous. And we agree. However, the parties disagree on the meaning of the statutory language and how it should be interpreted. There is no question that Section 71.02(a) does not explicitly include the crime of "possession with intent to deliver" as a predicate offense. The issue instead is whether our Legislature's use of the words "manufacture, delivery" to modify "controlled substance" includes, by way of reference, the offense of "possession with intent to deliver." We conclude that it does not.

         In the SPA's view, the words "manufacture, delivery" in (a)(5) should be treated as a broader reference to offense headings rather than as a description of specific offenses. Treated as such, the use of the words "manufacture, delivery" demonstrates the Legislature's intent to include the offense of possession with intent to deliver as a predicate offense for the greater offense of engaging. The SPA asserts that, reading the original statute as a whole, "most of the predicate offenses are listed by statutory section heading." This suggests, according to the SPA, that the phrase "manufacture, delivery . . . of a controlled substance" is a reference to offense headings in the Controlled Substances Act.[20]

         The SPA points to the fact that, "[w]hen the [engaging statute] was created in 1977, there was a single, comprehensive offense in the Controlled Substances Act with the section heading 'Unlawful Manufacture or Delivery of Controlled Substances.'"[21] Possession with intent to deliver was an offense under that section heading.[22] In the SPA's view, the Legislature intended to reference that section heading in the Controlled Substances Act (which, following some amendments, was codified in the Health and Safety Code). Therefore, the SPA concludes, "manufacture, delivery" includes the offense of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, making it a predicate offense under the engaging statute.

         We have addressed the language of (a)(5) in another context. In Nichols v. State, the appellant argued that (a)(5) was vague because "deliver" and "controlled substance" are not defined in the Penal Code.[23]

         We held that the statute was not vague, reasoning:

We think it obvious that the references of Sec. 71.02(a)(5) to "unlawful manufacture, delivery, dispensation, or distribution of a controlled substance or dangerous drug, or unlawful possession of a controlled substance or dangerous drug through forgery, fraud, misrepresentation, or deception" are necessarily references to those offenses as defined in the Controlled Substances Act and the Dangerous Drugs Act.[24]

         In a possession with intent to deliver case, Lopez v. State, we recognized the purpose of including possession with intent to deliver under "manufacture or delivery" offenses.[25] We stated ...


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