Articles Posted in Drug Crimes

In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 64, which eventually led to the legal recreational use of marijuana. Proposition 64 also contained provisions that reduced the criminal penalties for many California marijuana-related crimes, including for the cultivation and sale of marijuana. In a recent case, a state appellate court considered a defendant’s conviction for felony accessory.

According to the court’s opinion, in 2013, police officers had executed a search warrant at a residence, finding a large amount of marijuana. During their investigation, the defendant was arrested after officers saw him leave through the front door of the house. After his arrest, the defendant told officers that he was helping a friend package marijuana.

Initially, the defendant was charged with two felony counts of possession of marijuana for sale and cultivation of marijuana. However, under an agreement with the prosecution, the defendant pled guilty to felony accessory and was sentenced to a sentence of probation. After violating the terms of his probation several times, the judge revoked the defendant’s probation and sentenced him to two years of incarceration. The defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that under the subsequently enacted Proposition 64, he should be entitled to a resentencing.

In a recent California appellate decision, the court considered whether a conviction could stand against a defendant who was charged with the possession of methamphetamine-infused paper in prison. According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was an inmate at a state prison in California. A correctional officer found eight small pieces of numbered paper, along with a greeting card inside the defendant’s cell. The officer had heard from other officers that inmates were recently obtaining methamphetamine-infused paper in prison.

The officer had a preliminary test done at the prison which showed the presence of methamphetamine on a corner of the greeting card and on one piece of paper. Further testing at a lab showed that the remainder of the greeting card was negative, but that some of the papers contained methamphetamine. The defendant was charged with and found guilty of possession of methamphetamine while in prison, in violation of Penal Code section 4573.6, and sentenced to six years in prison. The defendant argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he possessed a usable amount of methamphetamine and that he knew the substance was methamphetamine.

Under section 4573.6 of the California Penal Code, the state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant unlawfully exercised control over a controlled substance; knew of the substance’s presence; knew that the substance was a controlled substance; and possessed the substance in a sufficient amount so as to be used as a controlled substance. Under California case law, a usable amount is defined as a quantity sufficient “to be used by someone as a controlled substance,” which “does not have to be enough in either amount or strength to [a]ffect the user,” but cannot be “useless traces or debris.”

The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution provide fundamental rights to all citizens. For example, police officers cannot perform a search without probable cause. Nor can they interrogate someone on the subjective belief that they look suspicious. For the most part, police officers must be able to point to specific facts that give them probable cause to believe someone committed a crime before they subject that person to investigatory procedures.

Of course, there are exceptions to that general rule. One common exception is when a defendant engages in a consensual encounter with the police. Courts have held that consensual encounters do not require a police officer to develop probable cause.  A recent California appellate decision illustrates this concept.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were on patrol when they saw the defendant walk out of an apartment, look in their direction, and then turn around. The officers also saw the defendant put something into his pocket. The officers approached the defendant, asking him “Hey, how are you doing? What’s your name? Do you got anything illegal on you?” The defendant admitted to having a meth pipe on him. When asked if he had anything else illegal on him, the defendant admitted to having a “bunch of meth” on him. Police searched the defendant, finding methamphetamine, a pipe, and 162 dollars in small bills.

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