You Decide: Should Grandmother Get Jail Time For Buying A Box of Sudafed at Walmart?

Posted on February 5, 2012

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Alabama (Jerry Mitchell-Clarion Ledger) – Unless she wins her appeal, a Mississippi grandmother who spent $8.98 on a box of Sudafed must serve a year in jailWell now that’s one hell of an opening line…

Diane Avera of Meridian talks about being arrested and sentenced to jail in Alabama for buying cold medicine because authorities believed she was going to use it to make methamphetamine. / Therese Apel/The Clarion-Ledger

For Diane Avera, a 45-year-old Meridian woman who does personal care for the sick, disabled and elderly, it has been a nightmare, she said. “I keep thinking I’m going to wake up, but I never do.”

She is seeking a new trial in Demopolis, Ala., after being convicted of second degree intent to manufacture methamphetamine. Convicted after buying a legally manufactured product?  If she loses, she plans to appeal to the Alabama Court of Appeals.

Crackdowns taking place across the nation on pseudoephedrine and other products used to make methamphetamine have caused her to become a “prisoner of the drug war going on inside America,” said her husband, Keith. “When common household medications and disinfectants are now illegal to possess, I believe we have gone overboard with the drug laws.”  Here’s what happens when we shirk personal responsibility, and give control of our lives to the nanny state.  On in 21st century America, could we make it illegal to buy something manufactured and sold, legally – at a WALMART!

In 2009, grandmother Sally Harpold was handcuffed and jailed in Indiana after she bought a box of Zyrtec-D cold medicine for her husband and a box of Mucinex D cold medicine for her adult daughter in less than a week.

Mississippi has one of the nation’s strictest laws, requiring a prescription to purchase pseudoephedrine.  You can’t purchase a medication in order to make yourself well without a prescription, yet you can walk into any drugstore and obtain the “morning after” pill, to avoid pregnancy.  Amazing, isn’t it? 

Marshall Fisher, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said since the law’s enactment, his agency has seen a 67 percent decline from the 960 meth labs it found the year before and an 80 percent decline in children endangered by meth labsIt’s always about the children, isn’t it?  What they’re overlooking, is the fact that meth is still being used.  If there’s a demand for it, people are going to find a way to make it.  If it’s not being manufactured there, then it must be manufactured somewhere else, right?  All the laws did was move the meth labs, NOT the problem.

While it is illegal to bring pseudoephedrine products back to Mississippi, authorities don’t target those who do, unless they have been arrested in the past, he said.  So wait, authorities are saying that they can pick and choose, when to enforce the law?  If that’s the case, then WHY bother having the law?  Does that sound like a waste to anyone else?

“We have enough to say grace over without doing that silliness,” he said. “The last thing we want to be responsible for is targeting grandma.”  Yeah how’s that working out for you?

Avera, who has three grandsons, had no prior arrests. “The only thing I’ve ever had is a speeding ticket,” she said.

On July 29, 2010, she was getting ready for a scuba diving trip in Panama City, Fla., with her husband and others.

Her scuba instructor, Bob Sample, had urged her to buy Sudafed or similar decongestant because she had ear trouble. “I told her to go get some three days out and get your sinuses dried up,” he said. 

After waiting too late to get a prescription, she stopped at the Walmart pharmacy in Meridian. There, she said, a clerk urged her to travel to Alabama, where Sudafed is sold over the counterWell that’s what happens when you wait till the last-minute.

She picked up her son and his girlfriend, who were living in Toomsuba. She also had two of her grandsons as well as the girlfriend’s nephew.

They traveled to Demopolis, where police were conducting a sting operation. Pharmacists there informed police when anyone from Mississippi bought medicine containing pseudoephedrineThis sounds eerily reminiscent of 1930’s Germany, when businesses were required to turn in anyone who didn’t agree with the Nazi’s, doesn’t it?

Avera said she encouraged her son and girlfriend to each buy a box of Sudafed since they lacked health insurance. They stopped at CVS, where her son purchased Sudafed D.

She bought Sudafed at Walmart since she had a gift card, she said. She also bought crayons and glue sticks for her two grandsons starting school the next week.  That’s what did it!  Nothing throws up red flags like crayons and glue sticks!

After leaving Walmart, she said police officer Sgt. Tim Soronen pulled her over and asked, “What brings you to Demopolis?”  Sounds like they were looking for her.  How messed up is that?

“I came over to buy some Sudafed for our scuba diving trip this weekend since we cannot buy it in Meridian anymore,” she said she told him.

She said the officer asked if she knew it was against the law to cross the state line and buy Sudafed. (It is against the law in Mississippi to bring back pseudoephedrine products from another state, but Alabama law permits those from other states to buy the medicine as long as they sign.)  But wasn’t she in Alabama when she was pulled over?  Technically, she hasn’t done anything illegal yet!

“No, sir, I did not know,” she said she replied.

“I need you to step out of the car,” he said.  She should have immediately asked why and then refused!  No crime had been committed at that time!

“For what? I swear I didn’t know. What did I do?” she said she asked.

You came to Demopolis to buy some Sudafed. Step to the back of the truck,” she said he told her.

The officer pulled her son from the truck, handcuffed him and searched him, finding a bottle for methadoneOoopse!  Yeah, maybe he should have left that at home.

She said she explained her son has had drug problems and that the methadone is a prescriptionThere you go, the kid had a prescription…

“So he’s a drug user?” she said the officer asked her.

She acknowledged her son’s drug woes and said the officer began digging through her purse and asked if she had any drugs.

“No, sir, I don’t do drugs,” she said she replied.

Digging beneath the truck seat, officers found a pouch full of drug paraphernalia for crack cocaine. (Her son testified he had hidden the pouch, which was his.)  Sounds like her kid isn’t very bright!  Something ELSE that probably should have been left at home.  Way to get you mom’s ass in a sling… loser.

She said the officer remarked, “Thought you don’t do drugs.”

“I don’t do drugs,” she said she replied.

After she saw the crying children placed in the squad car, she said the officer asked if she wanted him to go ahead and call the Alabama Department of Human Resources “to pick up these kids.”  Now why would they ask such a thing if that was already something that they would do?  Does it sound like they were going to work grandma over, to anyone else?

A scene from her youth flashed into her mind of her brothers being taken away from her family by state welfare officials, she said. “I begged the officer, ‘Please don’t do this.'”

By this point, about an hour after being pulled over, she said she began begging the officer, telling him she would admit to whatever police wanted as long as they would “let my son take my babies.”  Find a sensitive spot and squeeze…  typical strategy.

He told her she had to confess all the Sudafed was hers, thereby putting her over the legal limit in Alabama, she said. “They made me admit to a crime I did not commit.”  Of course, lady…  You were an easy target.  The cop has to justify his existence and if he doesn’t bust anyone, he doesn’t appear to be doing his job!

She began her statement: “I picked up Larry and Shanna from there (sic) house and came to Demopolis to buy some Sudafed for myself …”

She told The Clarion-Ledger, “They told me to add that I was making crystal meth so I did.”  When they tell you that you have the right to remain silent, feel free to do so.  Should have gotten yourself a lawyer, lady!

She ended her statement: “I did not know it was against the law to cross the state line to purchase Sudafed. I promise to never buy another box in my life.”

Contacted for comment, Soronen would not discuss the case.

Police jailed her, charged with intent to manufacture crystal meth. She said they handcuffed her hands and legs to a metal chair for 17 hoursYou can’t tell me that somewhere throughout the process, not a single police officer thought to themselves; hey maybe we’re going overboard with this…  Yeah but why use your head, right?  Hey, we were just doing our jobs…

During the three-day trial in Marengo County Circuit Court, prosecutors used her statement against herYes, they do that.  Hence why they advise you that you HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT.

District Attorney Greg Griggers said Avera confessed she was buying pills to have them cooked so she could get methShe should have said she was coerced into a deal so her grandchildren could leave with their parents.

While out on bond, Avera took voluntary drug tests, and none came back positive. Some tests listed her creatinine level (related to kidney function) as “abnormal.”  There you go, she was clean!  End of story.

Griggers argued she had provided diluted samples. “She would water it down so you couldn’t test it,” he told The Clarion-Ledger.

Avera’s attorney, John Wiley Hartley of Montgomery, responded that no one who administered the tests ever claimed the samples were dilutedYou know what’s funny?  I’ve had to take drug tests for work before, and there’s usually someone there watching you, so you CAN’T do anything to the sample.

Griggers said Avera admitted to authorities she started using meth with her daughter and had been using for two years.  Yet her test came back negative. 

“That’s a lie,” Avera responded.

She said she acknowledged her children have struggled with drugs and have gone into rehab, but that she has never used drugs.

If she fails in her appeals, she would face the prospect of going back behind bars, she said. “I still am facing 10 more months in jail if I don’t win.”

She said she is frightened about being cut off from her grandchildren. “I’ve practically raised my two grandsons.”

I know it seems like I was pretty negative towards the law enforcement in this story, and in many ways, I think it was deserved.  They pulled her over to see what she had, FIRST, and then searched to see what more they could charge her with.  There’s no doubt in my mind, that this story was originally spun there, in order to justify many other searches which turned up nothing.

What really didn’t look good for grandma, was her son’s crack pipe under the seat.  Why on earth did that idiot have it on him to begin with?  The story said he had his kids with him too, right?  What the hell was thins guy thinking?  When you have kids, maybe it’s time to quit doing crack – just my 2 cents.

Man, what a messy story, right?

So now you decide, America.  Based on what information we have available, should Grandma get jail time for buying cold medicine?

If you or someone you know has a problem and is struggling with Meth addiction, please seek help.  Call the Meth Helpline as (866)535-7922, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, or go to methhelpline.com.

Source for story:     http://www.clarionledger.com/article/20120205/NEWS/202050350/Woman-says-innocent-trip-Ala-spirals-into-meth-charge