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Intent is at the crux of this case


Defendant was charged and convicted of criminal possession with intent to distribute 6¼ grams of heroin, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a), a drug crime. The defendant appealed. On appeal, defendant attacked the sufficiency of the evidence; the admission of certain testimony concerning drugs possession other than those he was charged with possessing in the indictment; and the trial judge’s charge to the jury.

The appellate court affirmed the conviction.

First, the standard utilized by the Court is not whether in its opinion the evidence and all reasonable inferences therefrom failed to exclude every reasonable hypothesis other than guilty, but whether the jury might so conclude. The defendant’s argument here that he intended to use the heroin solely for himself is but one hypothesis of innocence, which the defendant suggested might satisfy the Court’s sense of reasonableness. The court has often held that this is not enough to permit a reversal of the verdict. As a rule, the court must uphold a guilty verdict if there is any theory of the evidence from which the jury might have excluded every hypothesis except guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard was met in this case.

Second, defendant’s second contention was a dual one. According to him, the trial judge erred in admitting testimony about the thirty packets of the drug heroin found in the dresser drawer; and also about the marijuana cigarette butts found therein; and both amounted to evidence of other crimes like robbery, and their introduction was therefore incurably prejudicial. The appellate court disagreed. As a rule, evidence of other similar crimes i.e. possession is admissible to show intent. Here, the evidence concerning the thirty packets of heroin was admissible to show intent. The testimony concerning marijuana, on the other hand, was not admissible to show intent, but its admission did not, constitute reversible error. The testimony was confined to two statements made by two of the participants in the search of defendant’s apartment. They amounted to no more than descriptions of what they saw in the bedroom drawer; they were mere statements of having observed the res gestae. Later in the trial, it must be noted that when the Government sought to introduce the marijuana butts as an exhibit, and to have a chemist testify that the substance had been chemically identified as marijuana, the trial judge excluded the exhibit and instructed the jury to disregard the chemist’s testimony concerning marijuana. Clearly, the brief allusions to marijuana in the testimony of the customs agent and police detective who searched the apartment were not sufficiently prejudicial to require a new trial. Domestic violence was not an issue.

Third, the court cannot escape the obvious: the quality of the drugs possessed, in conjunction with the quantity, was indeed relevant to the inference to be drawn from possession of a large quantity. Possession of six grams of 99.5% pure heroin, the purity of the heroin found in defendant’s possession, obviously supports more strongly an inference of intent to distribute than does possession of heroin of, say, 5% purity. Here, the heroin the defendant possessed, given its quality and quantity taken together, was worth $60,000 on the street. It was highly unlikely that, the effect of the instruction given to the jury was to lead the jurors into thinking they could infer intent from the quality of the heroin alone. There was no strong probability that the instructions taken as a whole were such as to confuse or leave an erroneous impression in the minds of the jurors. The particular instruction in question did not constitute reversible error. The court also found bereft of merit the defendant’s objection to the sequence in which the judge’s instructions were given, that it tended to confuse the jury on the issue of intent, and to the failure of the trial judge to give a literal definition of intent.

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