WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, THIRD CIRCUIT,
PARISH OF GRANT
Brian Michael Hughes was arrested in the parking lot of Grant
Junior High School, near Dry Prong. A search incident to
arrest revealed a plastic bag in defendant's pocket,
which contained a substance that appeared to be crystal
methamphetamine. The Grant Parish Sheriff's office
determined that the substance weighed 2.3 grams. The
substance was sent to the North Louisiana Crime Lab for
chemical testing. The Crime Lab determined it was
methamphetamine. At the Crime Lab, however, the
methamphetamine weighed 1.73 grams.
was found guilty as charged of possession of methamphetamine,
La.R.S. 40:967 (which at the time of the crime did not
differentiate the offense into grades by weights less than 28
grams), and sentenced to five years imprisonment at hard
labor. The court of appeal reversed the conviction because it
found the evidence insufficient to support it (which was
defendant's sole assignment of error on appeal).
State v. Hughes, 17-0458 (La.App. 3 Cir. 11/29/17),
258 So.3d 179. Specifically, the court of appeal found
"that the weight discrepancy of the substance measured
by the Grant Parish Sheriff's Department (2.3 grams) and
the weight recorded by the analyst at the Crime Lab (1.73
grams) provided reasonable doubt as to whether the lab
received and analyzed the same evidence taken from
Defendant's pocket." Hughes, 17-0458, pp.
2-3, 258 So.3d at 180. The court of appeal erred.
reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a
conviction, an appellate court in Louisiana is controlled by
the standard enunciated by the United States Supreme Court in
Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61
L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). . . . [T]he appellate court must
determine that the evidence, viewed in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, was sufficient to convince a
rational trier of fact that all of the elements of the crime
had been proved beyond a reasonable doubt." State v.
Captville, 448 So.2d 676, 678 (La. 1984). In addition,
chain of custody or connexity of the physical evidence is
ultimately a factual matter for determination by the jury.
State v. King, 355 So.2d 1305, 1310 (La. 1978).
court of appeal here placed too much importance on the fact
that the weighing scale used in the Grant Parish
Sheriff's Office was originally provided by the Crime
Lab. See Hughes, 17-0458, pp. 4-5, 258 So.3d at
181-182. While this fact is reflected in the record, it has
little significance. Of greater significance is the fact that
the Crime Lab is subject to accreditation requirements that
require the regular monthly calibration of its scales while
the care and condition of the Grant Parish Sheriff's
Office scale is unknown. While the court of appeal dismissed
as unreasonable the testimony of a forensic chemist with the
Crime Lab that attributed the weight discrepancy to the
different treatment and calibration of the scales, see
Hughes, 17-0458, p. 5, 258 So.3d at 182 ("We find
it unreasonable to accept as evidence the mere hyperbolized
offering of [the forensic chemist] . . . ."), there is
no irrationality inherent in the factfinder's apparent
decision to credit the forensic chemist's testimony.
reiterate that the principal criterion of a Jackson v.
Virginia review is rationality; it is not an opportunity
for a reviewing court to substitute its appreciation for that
of a rational factfinder:
Accordingly, under the Jackson methodology a
reviewing court is required to view the evidence from the
perspective of a hypothetical rational trier of fact
in determining whether such an unconstitutional conviction
has occurred. In reviewing the evidence, the whole record
must be considered because a rational trier of fact
would consider all of the evidence, and the actual trier of
fact is presumed to have acted rationally until it
appears otherwise. If rational triers of fact could
disagree as to the interpretation of the evidence, the
rational trier's view of all of the evidence
most favorable to the prosecution must be adopted. Thus,
irrational decisions to convict will be overturned,
rational decisions to convict will be upheld, and
the actual fact finder's discretion will be impinged upon
only to the extent necessary to guarantee the fundamental
protection of due process of law.
State v. Mussall, 523 So.2d 1305, 1310 (La. 1988)
(footnotes omitted) (emphasis in original).
state established the chain of custody at trial and the jury
could reasonably conclude that the substance seized from the
defendant was the substance tested by the crime lab and
introduced as evidence at trial, the discrepancy in the
weights notwithstanding. Accordingly, we reverse the court of
appeal's decision, which found merit in defendant's
sole assignment of error and vacated the conviction. Because
we find the court of appeal erred in ...