Cooperation, Undercover Drug Deals, Snitching: Using the little fish to get the big fish.
We have found that our clients charged with drug crimes experience a state of insecurity and despair when it comes to doing undercover work or cooperating with the police. This is something that is outside of the comfort zone for nearly everyone, especially the family members of our clients faced with this dilemma.
The classic predicament: Should a person engage in undercover drug deals or hire a lawyer for advice and face the criminal charges in the court system?
Every drug crime requires the element of “possession”. In fact, drug crimes rank high on the list of frequently occurring felony cases in Michigan. Drug crimes include: “possession” or “possession with intent to deliver” marijuana, heroin, cocaine, MDMA or analogues.
Whenever someone is charged with any drug crime, our criminal defense attorneys will question whether the accused legally possessed the alleged drugs. Michigan Courts Define Possession In Criminal Cases
In Michigan, a person must knowingly and intentionally possess an illegal drug to be charged with possession of a controlled substance under Michigan’s drug possession statute. But what does that mean?
The courts in Michigan consolidate possession into two categories
1. Actual possession: an individual has drugs on their person (pocket or shoe)
2. Constructive possession: individual has the right of control and dominion over the controlled substance
Actual possession is simple. If the drugs are in a person’s pocket, that person possesses the drugs. But what if the drugs are found in a home where multiple people are present? What about in a car with more than one occupant? What if the person was unaware the drugs were in the car? Determining whether or not the individual had a right of control or dominion over the drugs, or over the premises (car, apartment, house) in which the drugs were found, is critical in these situations. However, an individual’s presence in the same house or automobile as the drugs is insufficient to establish possession; a connection between the drugs and the individual must be found as well. When a person is merely present at a place where drugs are found or is an innocent bystander, our firm will argue that there is insufficient evidence to establish the element of possession.
Michigan Courts broadly interpret possession:
People v Nunez (2000): In this case, police entered a home and discovered, along with several occupants, a large stash of cocaine. Although Mr. Nunez didn’t have the cocaine on his person, he was charged and convicted of possession of cocaine. The police arrived at their conclusion by observing the apartment and its contents. Mr. Nunez had a key for the apartment and stayed at the apartment most of the time. His name was also found on bills within the apartment. The connection between Mr. Nunez and the drugs was straightforward in this case.
People v Meshell (2005): In this case, police observed a man emerging from a garage in which they later discovered methamphetamine. Upon entering the area, police noticed a strong chemical odor coming from the garage. Mr. Meshell was the only person in the area of the garage and when police ran his record, they discovered past issues with methamphetamine. Because Mr. Meshell had past issues with meth, it was obvious that he knew the smell. He was also the only one in the area at the time police observed him exiting the garage.
People v McKinney (2003): In this case, police entered a home and discovered a large amount of cocaine. Police found crack in drawers containing women’s clothing, and linked the drugs to Ms. McKinney because she was frequently staying at the apartment. Drugs were also found within the pockets of women’s clothing in the bedroom she was sharing with the owner. By using the drug’s location as evidence, the police were able to successfully charge and convict Ms. McKinney of possession of cocaine.
As you can see from the cases above, police can use the surrounding circumstances to establish an individual’s possession of a controlled substance:
1. Any past drug-related criminal activity 2. The smell of the drugs, particularly marijuana 3. Whether or not the person was alone 4. Utility bills for the home in which the drugs were found Continue Reading
The recent Court of Appeals case, People v. Koon (which can be read in its entirety here), illustrates how Michigan deals with drugged driving. Oftentimes clients are under the misguided impression that a prescription or a medical marijuana card offers them immunity from prosecution for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. However, Michigan law has two provisions to deal with this. For Schedule 1 narcotics (cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, for example) where there is ‘any amount’ of the illicit substance the driver can be convicted. Alternatively, impairment must be proven where a client is charged with driving under the influence of a prescribed medication.
The Koon case deals with 3 issues; 1) the ‘any amount’ provision of MCL 257.625(8); 2) Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act; and 3) marijuana that was ingested hours before the defendant operated the automobile. In this instance, the defendant had a medical marijuana card and had used marijuana five to six hours before driving his automobile. Nonetheless, marijuana’s active ingredient THC, which can remain in one’s system for weeks after it’s ingested, showed up in Mr. Koon’s blood. Both the District Court and Circuit Court held that the Medical Marijuana Act was a defense to the zero tolerance law. Unfortunate for Mr. Koon and other card holders, the Court of Appeals did not.
The opinion, which I recommend those visiting this blog take the time read (it’s not too complicated), reasons that the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act does not carve out an exception to the ‘any presence’ law. The MMMA does not reschedule marijuana (it remains Schedule 1) and further specifically states there are no protections for those driving under the influence of marijuana. The issue may be taken up with the State Supreme Court in the future.
What are the takeaways from this case? Most specifically as it pertains to marijuana card holders, they remain at risk driving long after they ingest marijuana. The result does seem harsh given that THC can remain in one’s system for weeks after it is initially used. Nonetheless, this seems to shed some light on the way Courts are interpreting that law. Further, this should serve as a reminder that the State does not take lightly to drugged driving. If you are being prosecuted for operating an automobile under the influence of any drug, a marijuana card or a valid prescription does not offer blanket protection. This is likely an issue that will continue to take shape in the Legislature and Court of Appeals over the coming years. Continue Reading
Recently Ann Arbor and Huntington Woods have provided some guidance in Michigan’s fractured, complex, and incredibly controversial Medical Marijuana Act. In Ann Arbor, while the city did not weigh in on whether or not to allow additional dispensaries (currently it has 20), it decided that cultivation facilities do not need licenses. Council Member Stephen Kunselman echoed the sentiments of the MMMA and said that he hoped to maintain caregiver confidentiality. Kunselman stated he doesn’t want the city to gather information that could wind up in the possession of the feds. Additionally, the city decided not to differentiate between residential and non-residential grow facilities. However, Ann Arbor DID limit the amount of plants to 72. This sheds light on a question frequently posed to us, whether grow cooperatives are permitted under the MMMA.
Somewhat similarly, Huntington Woods adopted regulations for those growing marijuana as caregivers. It decided to prohibit these businesses from being run out of homes. Further, the city has delineated certain districts where these businesses must be located. Additionally, like any other business operating within the city, caregivers will have to submit a site plan to the Planning Commission for approval. However, unlike Ann Arbor, Huntington Woods stated that dispensaries are not embraced by the state law. It should be noted that both of these communities that are opening up the discussion about medical marijuana are communities where the Act was passed by margins in excess of 70%.
However, this does not mean that the dispute over the law’s many uncertainties is close to being resolved. Recently, in an article that Abdo Law was quoted in, a Livingston Dispensary was raided. Additionally, the recent raid on Oakland County dispensaries raises serious questions about whether patients and caregivers need to be concerned about interference from the Feds. Moreover, a Dearborn judge recently decided that the entire MMMA was unconstitutional and denied to motion to dismiss a possession case.
So, on one hand we have communities beginning to regulate medical marijuana, and on the other there are communities ignoring the law outright. It is our position that more clarification is needed at the state level. Otherwise, well-intentioned patients and caregivers are going to be placed in jeopardy. Continue Reading
This weekend, in light of the annual Hash Bash held in Ann Arbor, the Detroit Free Press took an opportunity to explore some of the issues surrounding Michigan’s medical marijuana laws. There seem to be two camps in terms of the medical marijuana argument. Opponents view the MMMA as against Federal Law and further as a subterfuge for cardholders to engage in illegal activity. Proponents argue that the law, passed by the people with margins of over 60%, should be upheld. The opponents do bring up a valid point, there have been many who have used their cards simply as a shield to grow marijuana or to sell it to those who don’t hold a card. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the law was enacted by the people and therefore the will of the people should be enforced. Currently, there are two big issues that need to be ironed out in the law. Those two issues are dispensaries and what exactly constitutes a bona fide doctor patient relationship.
Dispensaries have become the focal point of the medical marijuana argument. Whether for or against them, the fact remains they exist. The law is not clear on whether or not such distribution shops are allowed, but cities (such as East Lansing and Kalamazoo) have begun licensing them nonetheless. Without some clarification from the Court or the legislature, the State will end up with a patchwork of conflicting regulatory regimes. Many are advocating for a system similar to Colorado’s, where dispensaries are regulated by the state. The idea is that the state can then pay for administration of the law through tax revenue. Hopefully, this is something that Michigan’s legislature will take up over the summer.
Additionally, there is confusion as to what exactly constitutes as bona-fide doctor patient relationship. The law does not spell out exactly how much time someone needs to spend with a doctor for them to recommend the patient for medical marijuana use. This seems only to fuel the opposition and is yet another issue that the state needs to clarify, hopefully as soon as this summer. Continue Reading