A Centre County judge recently considered whether there was sufficient evidence to justify a conviction in a State College Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana case. Under Pennsylvania law, the district attorney is not required to prove who owned the drugs or marijuana but instead must only prove possession. There are two types of possession, actual and constructive. Actual possession is proven when the person has the drugs or contraband on his or her person, such as a person smoking a marijuana joint is clearly in actual possession of the drug.
Constructive possession requires proof that the person had the ability to exercise dominion or control over an item. A critical element or required fact to support a conviction is that the prosecution must prove that the defendant knew that the drugs or contraband were there. For example, if the marijuana had been in a cup holder in the center console of the car, in plain view of the passenger, then a passenger could readily be charged with possession of the small amount of marijuana because its presence was apparent, and the passenger could have grabbed it and took actual possession of it at any point. However, if the marijuana was in the trunk, the prosecution would have a much more difficult time proving that a passenger knew what was in the trunk of the car.
State College Small Amount of Marijuana Case
In this particular case, the person who was charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana was the front seat passenger in a vehicle in which marijuana was found in the glove compartment. When the police asked for the man's identification, he reached into the glove compartment to retrieve it, and, when the glove compartment was open, the officer observed the marijuana in plain view. The man stated that the marijuana was not present in the glove compartment when he placed his ID there, but the man did admit to smoking marijuana earlier in the day with the driver of the vehicle. Additional amounts of marijuana and paraphernalia were found in the driver's side door, and the driver admitted to ownership of those items of contraband, but the driver denied ownership of the marijuana in the glove box.
The Centre County judge ultimately held that the evidence was sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had been in possession of the marijuana and thereby upheld the guilty verdict. The judge's written opinion placed an emphasis on the Defendant's admission to having smoked marijuana earlier. While the admission clearly evidences that the Defendant had been in possession of marijuana in the past, it is not clear how such evidence proves that the Defendant knew that marijuana was present in the glove box. It is expected that the conviction will probably be appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
In a prior State College drug case, I had a Centre County judge deny a motion to suppress after finding that my client had consented to a search of his residence. On appeal, the Superior Court accepted my argument and held that the Centre County judge had erred in finding that my client had consented to a search. Because the Superior Court reversed the judge's denial of suppression, the Centre County District Attorney's Office dismissed the case.