When you ride as a passenger in someone’s car, does the driver then get access, dominion, or control over your anus? I thought the obvious answer was “no, are you kidding me?” This week, I tried — and failed — to convince a judge to share this point of view.
My client stood accused of possessing a controlled substance with intent to sell. This whole thing started 9 years ago when my client injured his back on a construction site at the age of 16. When the prescription opiates ran out–which was right around the same time my client’s various doctors realized that each had been writing him separate prescriptions–he turned to buying them from other people. Codefendant was one of these folks. Eventually, both of them realized that heroin provides the same high and was much, much cheaper and easier to get than the prescription pills.
Client and Codefendant drove from their homes in Santa Asphalt to Stucco Valley to visit their dealer. My client left with 2 grams of heroin, which he stowed in his sunglasses case. Codefendant left with 20 individually-wrapped one gram servings of heroin stuffed into his rectum.
Unfortunately for these two, the Stucco Valley Police Department had been watching the comings and goings from their dealer’s house. They watched my client pull away from the curb and waited for him to (inevitably) roll slowly through the stop sign at the nearby intersection. A routine traffic stop turned into an arrest and search. Client and Codefendant were handcuffed, and placed in the back of the patrol car. Once inside, Codefendant tried to discreetly remove his contraband by planting his feet against the cage that separated him from the front of the police car, arching his back until his face pressed against the rear window, and grunting as he tried to slip two hands in handcuffs into the rear of his pants.
The cops noticed, became curious, and conducted a more thorough search.
This client became my client after his probable cause hearing, during which a narcotics investigator testified that the codefendant had too much dope to be consistent with personal use and that it was more likely for sale or resale. After the hearing, the District Attorney charged both Codefendant and my client with possessing the heroin with intent to sell. My client was accused of possessing all of the dope, including the codefendant’s.
I didn’t have much of a defense for my client regarding the amount found in the sunglasses case. However, I thought I had a pretty decent argument that my client did not possess the amount found inside the codefendant.
I hoped to save my client from having to go to jury trial by filing a motion to dismiss (aka a “nine-nine-five”). In this type of motion, the judge assumes that all the information that came out during the probable cause hearing is true. The defense lawyer then argues that even accepting the truth of the evidence, it does not provide probable cause for the charges.
My “opposing counsel” was actually a 3rd year law student; her supervising attorney had obviously believed that this argument was an easy enough “win” to hand to someone who had neither studied for nor passed the bar examination. I really hoped they weren’t correct–not on this case.
“Opposing counsel claims that this court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the charges,” I said during oral argument on the motion to dismiss. “Let’s start by reminding ourselves of what the word ‘inference’ means. An inference is a statement that has not been expressly proven, but whose truth is guaranteed based on other truths. We must also remind ourselves of the legal definition of ‘possession.’ According to case law, a person can possess something without it being on his person. However, the defendant must have more than ‘mere access’ to the location where drugs are found; the prosecution must also prove that he had the right of dominion and control over the area where they were found.”
“Now, the prosecution has conclusively proven that the codefendant received a ride from my client, and that at the time of this ride, Codefendant had 20 individually wrapped bindles of heroin stowed away in his body. However the District Attorney asks this court to infer – from his role as the driver – that my client not only had access to the codefendant’s anus, but the right to dominion or control over it. These ‘inferences’ cannot be guaranteed from these facts; I submit that the District Attorney’s theory is wholly unmoored from the facts and we respectfully request that the court dismiss the charges.”
The court denied my motion.
I can only imagine what the jurors will make of this case when it goes to trial.