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COA reverses marijuana conviction based on intent

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The majority of an Indiana Court of Appeals panel today reversed a conviction of marijuana possession after the defendant contended there was insufficient evidence that she constructively possessed the drug. One judge dissented, writing the majority’s considerations of factors that would determine whether the defendant maintained dominion and control over the drugs did not apply in this case.

In Lisa Gray v. State of Indiana, No. 82A01-1005-CR-223, Evansville Police Department officers visited Lisa Gray’s apartment Sept. 7, 2008, to investigate a complaint of marijuana dealing. Gray consented in writing for the officers to investigate her residence.

Near two juvenile males, identified as friends of Gray’s son, the officers noticed in plain view a bag of what appeared to be marijuana near a coffee table. Gray and the two juvenile males denied possession of it.

Following a bench trial in May 2010, based on testimony from the officers, Gray was convicted of Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

“A conviction for possession of contraband may rest upon proof of either actual or constructive possession,” wrote Judge James S. Kirsch. “Actual possession occurs when a person has direct physical control over the item. … Because Gray did not have direct physical control over the marijuana found in her apartment, the State had to prove that she had constructive possession of it.”

He continued, referencing Wilkerson v. State, 918 N.E.2d 458, 462 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), that a “defendant is in the constructive possession of drugs when the State shows that the defendant has both (i) the intent to maintain dominion and control over the drugs and (ii) the capability to maintain dominion and control over the drugs.”

For the intent prong, when the premises are not exclusive to the defendant, there needs to be additional circumstances regarding the defendant’s knowledge of the substances, including: “(1) incriminating statements made by the defendant, (2) attempted flight or furtive gestures, (3) location of substances like drugs in settings that suggest manufacturing, (4) proximity of the contraband to the defendant, (5) location of the contraband within the defendant’s plain view, and (6) the mingling of the contraband with other items owned by the defendant,” Judge Kirsch wrote, citing Gee v. State, 810 N.E.2d 338, 340 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004).

These circumstances didn’t exist in this case, he wrote, and therefore “the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gray constructively possessed the marijuana.”

Judge Cale Bradford dissented, and disagreed with how the additional circumstances in Gee were used by the majority to determine intent to maintain dominion and control over the drugs.

“The majority also seems to be treating the non-exhaustive list of ‘additional circumstances’ from Gee as though it laid out ‘elements’ of a test or ‘factors’ to be weighed against one another,” he wrote.

“If the presence of one or more of the listed circumstances (or any other circumstance tending to show knowledge of the nature and presence of the contraband, for that matter) is sufficient to support a finding of constructive possession, it does not follow that the absence of the other listed circumstances undercuts that finding in any way,” he continued.

“… In another case, perhaps, the absence of some of these circumstances might be more relevant, but not so here,” he wrote. “What is relevant is that the State produced evidence that Gray was in close proximity to the marijuana and that it was in plain view. In my view, this is more than enough evidence to permit a finding that Gray knew of the presence and character of the contraband.”
 

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  1. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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