Court affirms man’s sentence in meth manufacturing | News, Sports, Jobs

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld a prison sentence imposed on an area man for manufacturing methamphetamine, and, in an unusual move, used an opinion by a Blair County judge to create a statewide precedent in the ruling.

The case before the appeals court involved Jeffrey Dean McFarland, 61, of Defiance, Bedford County, who was among those arrested in March 2018 when Altoona police and sheriff’s deputies went to a home on the 2800 block of Pine Avenue in Altoona to serve a warrant .

When the law enforcement officers entered the home, they saw a glass smoking pipe, empty blister packs, lithium batteries and a soda bottle with a white crystal substance inside.

McFarland and two others were arrested.

The primary material used in the manufacturing of meth is pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter drug used for nasal congestion.

The amount of pseudoephedrine a person can buy is limited, and the purchaser must show identification and sign a registry called the National Precursor log Exchange to acquire the drug.

Police traced McFarland’s purchase of items containing the drug from late November 2017 through February 2018 and charged him with manufacturing methamphetamine and criminal conspiracy with the two other people in the Altoona home, identified by the Superior Court as Shawn Amick and Mary Blackie.

McFarland challenged the evidence against him, contending that police obtained the record of his purchases of items containing the drug without a search warrant.

Blair County Judge Daniel J. Milliron rejected McFarland’s challenge, and the case went to trial in February 2020.

McFarland was found guilty of manufacturing a controlled substance and conspiracy but not guilty of risking a catastrophe and endangering the welfare of others.

Initially Milliron grants McFarland to three to 24 months in prison, but Blair County Assistant District Attorney Katelyn Hoover challenged the sentence, pointing out that the law mandated a two-year minimum sentence for persons convicted of manufacturing a controlled substance.

Milliron found in favor of the prosecution and on Sept. 21, 2020, resentenced McFarland to two to four years behind bars, followed by two years’ probation.

McFarland, through Blair County Public Defender Russell Montgomery, appealed to the Superior Court, attacking Milliron’s decision that allowed the NPLEX information obtained by police into the trial.

The Superior Court panel indicated there were no precedential cases involving the question, but it pointed out that Blair County President Judge Elizabeth A. Doyle addressed the issue in a 2014 case in which Shawn Travis Babcock had challenged the use of NPLEX records acquired without a warrant .

Babcock’s defense argued that a person signing the log had a “reasonable expectation of privacy and that the release of such information without a warrant violated the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The prosecution argued that NPLEX logs are only for over-the-counter medications and that the logs do not identify prescriptions from a licensed physician.

The Superior Court panel in the McFarland case turned to Doyle’s opinion — which was cited by Milliron in his McFarland decision — in which she stated, “The Court finds that there is no expectation of privacy … and no expectation of individual privacy in any record voluntarily kept by a pharmacy in that situation.”

She continued, “The Court is not going to protect the privacy interest of people who have come into retail establishments seeking to purchase substances which are not prescribed for them by a licensed physician … but also may be used to manufacture controlled substances to the detriment of the general public. ”

The Superior Court, addressing Doyle’s 2014 opinion stated, “We conclude the cogent reasoning of the court in Babcock is equally applicable to the instant (McFarland) appeal.”

The decision meant the court was adopting, as a precedent, Doyle’s opinion on the search warrant question raised by the defense.

The defense also challenged the verdict in the McFarland case, contending there was not sufficient evidence to convict McFarland.

The panel rejected that argument, noting an Altoona police officer identified many items in the Altoona house used in the manufacturing of methamphetamine, including muriatic acid, lithium batteries and blister packs of pseudoephedrine.

It concluded the evidence showed McFarland was more than a visitor to the home.

The opinion also assert that police found about $3,500 cash on McFarland, “which, in the officer’s training and experience, was consistent with engaging in illicit drug trafficking,” according to the Superior Court opinion.

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