Pennsylvania Contraband Charge Justified by Possession of Small Amount of Marijuana


People may generally know that contraband is something that a person is not legally permitted to have. At Centre County ARD placements, I routinely hear the judge order the destruction of contraband, which normally means destroying the marijuana and related paraphernalia that had been possessed by a Penn State University Park or Altoona student. A charge of Contraband, in violation of 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 5123, prohibits a person from possessing things on prison property. If the prohibited item is a controlled substance, then the Contraband charge is more severe as it is graded as a felony charge.

Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(31)

The Pennsylvania contraband law specifically states that it is a second degree felony for an inmate to unlawfully possess a controlled substance in violation of 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(16). In Commonwealth v. Gerald, the Pennsylvania Superior Court considered a case in which an inmate had been convicted of Contraband after he was found to be in possession of a small amount of marijuana in a correctional facility. Along with the Contraband charge, the inmate had also been charged with Marijuana Possession under 780-113(a)(16), but that charge had been dismissed at the preliminary hearing because the appropriate marijuana possession charge was Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, in violation of 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(31). The inmate argued that the Superior Court must reverse his Contraband conviction because the (a)(16) drug possession charge had been dismissed.

Pennsylvania Superior Court Considers Appeal

The Court reviewed the Contraband law and noted that it did not require a conviction of drug possession but only required a violation of the misdemeanor drug possession law. Since the inmate committed a violation by possession the small amount of marijuana, his actions were sufficient to be convicted of the Contraband charge. The Superior Court rejected the inmate’s argument and affirmed the inmate’s Contraband conviction.

Contraband charges routinely arise in both Centre and Huntingdon counties as the counties have both state correctional facilities and county jails. With Centre County building a second state correctional facility, the number of Centre County marijuana-related Contraband charges is likely to increase. People charged with serious felony offenses like Contraband, Drug Delivery, or Aggravated Assault need an experienced Centre County criminal defense lawyer.