Possession of Cocaine Guilty Verdict Reversed By Supreme Court

A recent Supreme Court decision resulted in a guilty verdict being reversed citing that the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. As an Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney, protecting the rights under the United States Constitution, is paramount in the defense of my clients. This case is a good example of a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment right. In Boykins v. State, 307 GA. App. 404 (705 Se2d 186) (2010), A State Court convicted the defendant of possession of cocaine and sentenced him to four years in prison. Defendant appealed his conviction as well as the denial of his motion to suppress the evidence seized from his vehicle. The Appellate Court affirmed the State Court’s decision and the Supreme Court granted “certiorari” to determine whether or not the Court of Appeals erred in applying the case law in Arizona vs. Gant , 556 U.S. 332 (129 SC 1710, 173 LE2d 485) (2009), to the facts of this case.

In this case, Boykins v. The State, defendant was observed by a police officer pulling up in his vehicle to a woman who was walking in a high crime area. The police officer stated that when he turned his patrol car around, defendant quickly drove away. The officer followed defendant to an apartment complex and pulled up behind him. He asked defendant for identification. He stated that his identification was in his apartment but gave his name and date of birth. It was discovered that defendant had an outstanding probation arrest warrant and was taken out of the vehicle, handcuffed and placed in the custody of the second officer on the scene. The officer then searched defendant’s vehicle finding cocaine in the center console.

Prior to trial, defendant filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence on the ground that the search was not proper, citing case law from Arizona v. Gant. In Gant, the Court held that “police may search a vehicle incident to a recent occupant’s arrest only if the arrestee is within reaching distance of the passenger compartment at the time of the search or it is reasonable to believe the vehicle contains evidence of the offense of arrest.” The State Court denied the motion and thus defendant was convicted. The Court of Appeals upheld the State Court’s decision determining that the search of the vehicle was permissible because the appellant was standing outside of the vehicle at the time of the search and unlike the defendant in Gant, had not been placed in the back of the patrol car.

The Supreme Court’s view of this was that, a fair reading of Gant cannot reasonably lead to the conclusion that the only manner in which to remove an arrestee from reaching distance of the interior of a vehicle is to place the arrestee in the back of a patrol car. Further, the State was unable to justify the search on the second ground in Gant, that being “when it is reasonable to believe evidence relevant to the crime of arrest might be found in the vehicle.” Gant, supra, 129 SC at 1719.

There are other exceptions to the warrant requirement however, in this case, the State failed to meet its burden of proving the search incident to arrest exception to the warrant requirement and thus the exception did not apply. The Judgment was reversed.

Possession of a controlled substance is a felony. The penalties if convicted are:

1. Probation and up to one year in county jail, or
2. A California State prison sentence of 16 months, or two or three years.

If you have been arrested for possession of a controlled substance in Orange County, California, it is extremely important to hire an aggressive Orange County drug defense attorney who is familiar with all of the Courts in Orange County. An attorney who has a good working relationship with the individual Judges, District Attorneys, Court Clerks and Probation Department, as well as the Court staff, will be better able to get your charges reduced and/or dismissed. An attorney familiar with the Courts in which a case is pending will result in the best possible outcome available.

If you would like to know more about Possession of a Controlled substance or illegal search and seizure, contact Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney William M. Weinberg at his Irvine, CA office at 949-474-8008 or at www.williamweinberg.com.