People v. Davison

Decision Date02 April 2009
Docket NumberNo. 106219.,106219.
Citation906 N.E.2d 545,233 Ill.2d 30
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellant, v. Troy DAVISON, Appellee.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

Lisa Madigan, Attorney General, Springfield, Dennis E. Simonton, State's Attorney, Marshall (Michael A. Scodro, Solicitor General, Michael M. Glick and Michael R. Blankenheim, Assistant Attorneys General, Chicago, Norbert J. Goetten, Robert J. Biderman, and Anastacia R. Brooks, Office of the State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, Springfield, of counsel), for the People.

Michael J. Pelletier, State Appellate Defender, Gary R. Peterson, Deputy Defender, Michael H. Vonnahmen, Assistant Appellate Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Springfield, for appellee.


Justice THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion:

Defendant, Troy Davison, was arrested while transporting a 30-pound cylinder containing anhydrous ammonia, a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine. The State charged him with possession of a deadly substance (720 ILCS 5/20.5-6(a) (West 2004)), and a jury in the circuit court of Clark County found him guilty of that offense. Defendant appealed, arguing that the State failed to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A majority of the appellate court agreed with defendant and reversed his conviction. 378 Ill.App.3d 1010, 318 Ill.Dec. 417, 883 N.E.2d 648. The State now appeals to this court. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the appellate court's decision.


Section 20.5-6(a) of the Criminal Code of 1961 makes it a Class 1 felony to "possess[ ], manufacture[ ] or transport[ ] any poisonous gas, deadly biological or chemical contaminant or agent, or radioactive substance * * * with the intent to use such gas, biological or chemical contaminant or agent, or radioactive substance to commit a felony." 720 ILCS 5/20.5-6(a) (West 2004). Here, the State's information alleged that defendant "knowingly possessed a poisonous gas, anhydrous ammonia, with the intent to commit a felony, being the manufacture of methamphetamine." For purposes of this appeal, no one disputes that the State sufficiently proved that defendant possessed anhydrous ammonia, or that he did so with the intent to use it in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. The sole point of contention is whether the State proved that defendant possessed a "poisonous gas." Accordingly, we will set forth only the facts germane to that question.

The State's first witness was Hunter David, a deputy patrolman with the Clark County sheriff's office. Deputy David testified that, on the evening of December 23, 2003, he issued a citation to defendant for driving with a suspended license. After issuing the citation, Deputy David conducted an inventory search of defendant's pickup truck, during which he discovered a 30-pound cylinder labeled "Propane Flammable." However, based upon the distinct odor emanating from the cylinder, the modified valve that had been affixed to the cylinder, and the bluish-green discoloration of the modified valve, Deputy David knew immediately that the cylinder contained anhydrous ammonia, not propane. Deputy David then explained that he had received specialized training in the investigation, processing, and dismantling of methamphetamine labs, including a 40-hour course at the Drug Enforcement Agency's (DEA's) academy in Quantico, Virginia. The DEA course included instruction on the hazards and handling of anhydrous ammonia. Based upon this training, Deputy David was able to testify that anhydrous ammonia is a "deadly substance" that can "blind you very easily" if it enters the eyes and can "swell your throat enough that you would suffocate" if inhaled in sufficient quantity. Because of this, police officers are trained to wear a Tyvex chemical suit, a respirator, boots, and rubber gloves before handling or coming in contact with anhydrous ammonia. On cross-examination, Deputy David acknowledged that he was not wearing protective gear when he discovered and inspected the modified propane tank in the bed of defendant's pickup truck. He explained, however, that this was both because he "didn't realize [he] was going to come across the tank" and because "being outside, not in a closed environment, there was no threat * * * that I was going to be doused or splashed with anhydrous ammonia."

The State's next witness was Richard Shutter, also a deputy with the Clark County sheriff's office. Deputy Shutter was the second officer to respond to the location of defendant's pickup truck on the evening of December 23. Once there, Deputy Shutter "slightly cracked" the valve on the modified propane tank to release a small amount of the gas contained within it. Based upon the odor of the gas, Deputy Shutter knew immediately that the tank contained anhydrous ammonia. Like Deputy David, Deputy Shutter testified that he had received specialized training in matters relating to the manufacture of methamphetamine. Based upon this training, as well as his personal involvement in numerous arrests and seizures arising from the manufacture of methamphetamine, Deputy Shutter was familiar with anhydrous ammonia and knew that it is a "toxic chemical that can be fatal and extremely harmful to your lungs if ingested." On cross-examination, Deputy Shutter acknowledged that he did not wear any protective gear when he cracked the valve on the modified propane tank, explaining that he "felt [he] could stay upwind of it and remain relatively safe."

The State next called Jerry Parsley, the sheriff of Clark County. Sheriff Parsley began by explaining that he had been trained in both the handling of anhydrous ammonia and the processing of methamphetamine labs. This training occurred in the private sector as well as at the DEA academy in Quantico. Based upon this training, Sheriff Parsley was able to testify that the inhalation of anhydrous ammonia "will burn the linings of your lungs," "can cause death," and "could be fatal very quick." In addition, Sheriff Parsley testified that he handled the disposal of the modified propane tank found in the bed of defendant's pickup truck. According to Sheriff Parsley, after confirming that the tank contained anhydrous ammonia, he transported the tank to the Clark County Sportsman's Club, which is located in a remote part of the county and far from any residences. Once there, Sheriff Parsley put on rubber gloves, a firefighter's coat, and an air-purifying respirator to protect him from exposure to the anhydrous ammonia. He then placed the tank in a field and shot it several times with a gun from a distance of at least 20 yards, releasing the anhydrous ammonia into the atmosphere. After waiting 30 minutes, Sheriff Parsley approached the tank and confirmed that it was empty. He then transported the tank to the sheriff's office garage, where it was secured. Sheriff Parsley explained that he shot the tank both because this is the safest method of releasing the anhydrous ammonia and because, on prior occasions, the DEA had refused to handle or transport such tanks as long as they contained anhydrous ammonia.

The State next called Robert Kruse, an Illinois state trooper who specializes in motor carrier safety and hazardous materials transportation. Trooper Kruse explained that both state and federal shipping regulations classify anhydrous ammonia as a Hazard Zone D substance, which means that "there is a lethal dosage to fifty percent or more of a test group, usually rats, at [concentrations of] three thousand to five thousand per million." As far as exposure to humans is concerned, Trooper Kruse explained that most people can start to smell anhydrous ammonia at around 20 parts per million and that, once the concentration reaches 500 parts per million:

"[Y]our throat will shut down, you won't be able to breathe. You will probably collapse, and you won't be able to * * * self rescue. You won't be able to walk away from the spill. So once you get over five hundred, you're probably going to be in great danger."

According to Trooper Kruse, whenever a Hazard Zone D substance such as anhydrous ammonia is shipped domestically, state and federal regulations require the vessel containing that substance to bear a label stating "Inhalation Hazard," which indicates that the substance being transported could cause "either great serious bodily harm or death" if inhaled. When shipped internationally, the vessel must also bear a skull and crossbones image and an additional label stating "Poisonous Gas."

The State's final witness was Troy Wesley, an agent with the Southeastern Illinois Drug Task Force. Agent Wesley testified about prior encounters he had had with defendant, as well as about the process of manufacturing methamphetamine. Unlike the previous witnesses, Agent Wesley offered no testimony concerning the nature or hazards of anhydrous ammonia.

The State then rested its case, and defendant moved for a directed verdict. The trial court denied that motion, and defendant immediately rested his case as well. The jury found defendant guilty of possessing a deadly substance, and the trial court later sentenced him to 26 years in prison.

Defendant appealed, arguing that the State had failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because anhydrous ammonia is not a "poisonous gas" for purposes of section 20.5-6. A majority of the appellate court agreed and reversed defendant's conviction. The majority's analysis began by noting that section 20.5-6 does not define the term "poisonous gas."1 The majority therefore consulted Webster's Third New International Dictionary to ascertain the phrase's meaning. According to Webster's, something is "poisonous" if it "is poison" or "has the qualities or effects of poison." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1751 (1993). "Poison," in turn, is defined as "a substance (as a drug) that in suitable quantities has properties harmful or fatal to an organism when it is brought...

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