Marijuana, meth convictions reversed for insufficient evidence, double jeopardy

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The legalization of hemp has led to the reversal of a man’s possession of marijuana conviction at the Court of Appeals of Indiana, which also vacated a meth-possession conviction on double jeopardy grounds.

The case began when Brookville Police Lt. Ryan Geiser initiated a traffic stop of Steven Lakes for failing to signal before turning, and because Lakes’ vehicle had an excessively loud muffler. During the stop, Geiser detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from inside Lakes’ vehicle.

A subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a clear bag with a substance that tested positive for marijuana. The search also revealed 10 grams of methamphetamine, a digital scale, a smoking pipe and a small container holding pills of the controlled substance buprenorphine.

The state charged Lakes with Level 3 felony dealing in meth, Level 5 felony possession of meth, Class A misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance, Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana and Class C misdemeanor possession of paraphernalia.

A jury found Lakes guilty of all charges, and the Franklin Circuit Court sentenced him to 15 years’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Lakes only challenged his convictions for Level 5 felony possession of meth and Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

On the marijuana conviction, the appellate court noted that the state sent the suspected meth to the Indiana State Police Lab for further testing, but the suspected marijuana was not tested.

“This leads to the fatal flaw underpinning Lakes’s marijuana conviction: with the legalization of hemp, Lieutenant Geiser’s generic statement no longer satisfies the State’s burden of proof,” Judge Leanna Weissmann wrote.

Thus, the COA found insufficient evidence to support the possession of marijuana conviction and reversed on that count.

“Lakes next asks this Court to vacate his conviction for possession of methamphetamine because it is a lesser-included offense to his dealing conviction and is based on the same underlying facts,” Weissmann continued. “With the State conceding that this argument is correct, we agree and remand for the trial court to vacate Lakes’s possession of methamphetamine conviction.”

Chief Judge Robert Altice and Judge Dana Kenworthy concurred in Steven T. Lakes v. State of Indiana, 23A-CR-1442.

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