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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. Such things are no more elections than those in the late, unlamented Soviet Union.

  2. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  3. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  4. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  5. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

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