Caroline County’s first crystal methamphetamine case in over six years came up for trial on Thursday, and the judge gave the defendant a second chance.
Christine Marie Newton, 28, of Springfield, Va., was charged with a class 5 felony (possession of a controlled substance). She was driving through Caroline County on July 13, 2013 when a deputy with the Caroline County Sheriff’s Office pulled her over near the intersection of Route 17 and Route 301, said Tony Spencer, the Commonwealth’s attorney for Caroline County.
The officer noticed an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle, Spencer told Caroline Circuit Judge Patricia Kelly. Eventually, it was discovered that a white purse in the vehicle contained a small bag of crystal meth, which was sent to a state laboratory for an analysis.
On Thursday, Newton did not plead guilty to the felony charge in the traditional way, but instead used the Alford guilty plea. In this type of case, a defendant does not admit to having committed the criminal act. The defendant asserts innocence. But the defendant does admit that the prosecution has the evidence that would likely persuade a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty.
Kelly handed down a deferred disposition in which Newton will serve no time, but will have to provide 100 hours of community service and undergo a drug screen each week for a year. Newton also had to give up her driver’s license for six months and undergo fingerprinting. She must not violate any laws over the next year and must continue with the Fairfax treatment program.
Newton will have to return to Caroline Circuit Court in March 2015 for a final review of her case. She will have to prove that she followed all stipulations.
State law allows for a sentence of one to 10 years in a state penitentiary for a conviction on this charge.
During the court proceeding, Spencer noted that a passenger in Newton’s vehicle had marijuana, a grinder and a digital scale with him.
Newton’s lawyer told the judge that this was the defendant’s first offense involving drugs. She also explained that Newton’s mother had been a drug addict but has been “clean for 25 years” because “she was given a chance and she turned her life around.”
Newton’s mother is the primary caretaker for an autistic child, but has stage 4 hepatitis. Therefore, the defendant is next in line to take care of the autistic child, the lawyer said.
Although she has a two-year degree in information technology, Newton works in a hotel and a grocery store in Fairfax County and lives with her mother.
The lawyer pointed out that Newton has worked as a volunteer with disabled children.
“She is trying hard to turn her life around and has taken all the steps” to do that, the lawyer told the judge. “My client was with the wrong person. She is no longer with him. She has separated from him.
“She wants treatment and wants to get rehabilitated. She does want to make a contribution to society. She wants to take care of her brother (the autistic child). She is just begging for a chance.
“I understand the Commonwealth’s attorney does not want drugs in this community,” the lawyer said. Newton “was just driving through. People just make mistakes and she is very remorseful.”
Spencer countered, “This was not a mistake. She was carrying crystal meth. Her lawyer said she was with the wrong person.” However, the man in Newton’s car “was with the wrong person. He was with someone carrying crystal meth.”
Spencer said officers learned Newton had made a deal with her friend to falsely tell authorities that the marijuana was hers, not her friend’s.
Spencer was elected as Caroline’s Commonwealth attorney six years ago, and this is his first crystal methamphetamine case in Caroline, he told the judge. “I see it moving closer to us. There was a case in Hanover. It’s something we’re concerned about coming our way.”
In one Virginia State Police district, there were no cases of crystal meth and it suddenly jumped to 30 cases. Within a year, there were 100 cases.
The judge noted that Spencer tends to give drug users a second chance by sending them to a treatment center. “It seems you are switching positions,” Kelly said. “Are you saying you’re drug-specific—that you have certain types of drugs that don’t get rehab?”
“We are worried about the message it would send” if Newton is not found guilty, Spencer said. He also pointed out that Newton had already enrolled in a treatment program.
“I’m not asking for jail time,” Spencer said. “I’m asking you to find her guilty. She was an endangerment to people in the county by driving with marijuana in use in the car.”
The judge told Spencer, “I don’t want crystal methamphetamine in Caroline or any other drugs. Measures are in place for her to follow.”
Crystal methamphetamine is “a powerful synthetic stimulant which is highly addictive,” according to medicalnewstoday.com. “This odorless substance is abused because it has a long-lasting euphoric effect on the user. Some people prefer crystal meth to other illicit drugs because the sense of euphoria it gives lasts up to 12 hours (depending on how it is taken), a much longer effect than, say cocaine. Crystal meth resembles shiny blue-white ‘rocks’ or fragments of glass of varying sizes, hence its name.”
“Once someone comes into a community who knows how to make methamphetamine and shows three people, then those three people show three more people and those people each show three more,” Spencer said in an interview. “Pretty soon, you’ve got 40 people who know how to make meth. Once it gets into the community, it explodes. I have the tremendous fear of that happening here.
“I do think crystal meth is the worst drug,” he said, also expressing concern about heroin. Across America, drug users who were once using prescription pain medicine to get high have switched over to heroin because laws have made it more difficult to illegally obtain prescription pain killers. “We cured one problem and now we have an even worse problem.”