People v. Allison
Court Discusses the Interpretation of the term “Duly Licensed” Under Sections 220.25(1) and 265.15(3) of the Penal Law
The defendant was arrested and charge for criminal possession of controlled substance in the first degree and criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree. The defendant who was taxi and limousine driver was searched where a loaded 38 caliber revolver and more than four ounces of heroin was recovered on the floor of the car driven by the defendant. The defendant had no permit to carry a gun and at the time of his arrest his chauffeur license was temporary suspended because of traffic ticket. The defendant requested that the indictment be dismissed the against him on the basis that at the time of his arrest he was a “duly licensed” operator of an automobile for hire and was exempt from statutory presumptions under sections 220.25(1) and 265.15(3) of the Penal Law governing possession of controlled substances and weapons found in automobile.
The charges against the defendant were founded on sections 220.25(1) and 265.15(3) which provided that where there was the presence of illegal substance or a firearm in a motor vehicle, there was a presumption that the occupants were guilty of the illegal possession unless the defendant was a duly licensed operator of the taxi which was considered his place of business. The issue was whether the defendant was considered duly licensed within the meaning of the statute. The defendant asserted that since his license was never revoked but only suspended then he should be given the benefit to fall within the exception. He indicated that the penalty of driving with a suspended license was less than the crime charged with and the legislature could not have intended that presumption was not intended to cover a driver in his situation. If the defendant’s interpretation of the sections were correct then the charge must fail as he would fall within the presumption. The People, on the other hand, contended that the exceptions should be read narrowly since his license was suspended at the time of his arrest as such he was not duly licensed. Since he was not duly licensed he would and fall within the exception and presumptions would be applicable.
Where the meaning is evident, the court does not need to look at other interpretation according to Shannon v. Introne, 80 A.D.2d 834. The term duly licensed was not clear and where there is uncertainty in meaning then principles of statutory interpretation should be applied. Uncertainty is not only within the meaning of the word but so the uncertainty cause from the application which can result in unjust or unreasonable consequences. In interpreting the term the court assumed that there was a rational connection when the legislature drafted exceptions to the presumption in a statue. A duly operated driver would not be the only person that has access to the automobile as passengers who had used it may possess contraband. The fact that the driver’s licence was temporary suspended does not mean that the defendant was aware of the contraband and involved in its possession. Without the rational connection, the defendant would be exposed to the presumption being applied and would result deprivation of his due process right. No assault was charged.
At time when defendant’s chauffeur’s license was suspended, he was a duly licensed operator of a taxi or limousine for hire and was exempt from statutory presumptions governing possession of controlled substances and weapons found in his automobile. Therefore, the charges were dismissed and the District Attorney was given the opportunity to resubmit charges and give the grand jury appropriate instructions within ten days of filing of this order.
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