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Defendant Contends Police Lacked Probable Cause in Drug Possession Case


Case Background

The police responded to a citizen’s report that marijuana was being grown in an open field. When the police officer arrived at the area described he found between 40 and 50 marijuana plants growing about a hundred yards from a home that was occupied. A New York Criminal Lawyer said he reported the find and the next day he and another officer returned to dig the plants up.

When the officers were gathering the plants the appellant of this case drove up to the house located near the field. The appellant got out of his care and one of the officers called him over. The officer asked him if he owned the home and he said no, but one of his friends did. The officers asked if the owner was home and the appellant told them to come to the house to find out.

When the officers followed the appellant into the house there were three people sleeping in different rooms of the home. There was marijuana in plain view throughout the home (marijuana possession). The owner of the home was not home, but all of the occupants of the home, including the appellant were placed under arrest for violation of state laws regarding possession of marijuana.

When the appellant was processed at the jail he was found to have counterfeit Federal Reserve notes and was subsequently charged with possessing counterfeit money in violation of Title 18 of the U.S. Code.

Case Discussion

A Westchester County Criminal Lawyer said the appellant motioned to suppress the counterfeit money as evidence and this was denied. A trial was held and a jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to five years confinement. This conviction was suspended and he received five years of probation.

The matter before the court is whether or not the officers had probable cause for arresting the appellant in the first place for the charge of possession of marijuana.

In order to arrest the defendant on the charges of possession of marijuana the police officers would have had to have probable cause to believe that the appellant knew about the marijuana in the home and in the field.

The appellant admitted to having a coming and going relationship with the owner and occupants of the home. However, this is not enough evidence to establish that he knew about the presence of marijuana in the home.

There was also no evidence or prior association with the appellant and other persons that were allegedly engaged in nefarious activities.

Court Decision

When all of the facts of the case are reviewed, the court has found no probable cause to support the arrest of the appellant in the first place. He did not live in the home and had a short relationship with the owner of the home. This does not constitute probable cause for arrest simply because he happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

For this reason, the court rules in favor of the defendant and the judgment being appealed from is reversed.

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