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. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.