Proving “Knowing” Possession Of Drugs: What Constitutes Sufficient Evidence?
People v Diaz
2015 NY Slip Op 01302
New York Court of Appeals
Decided on February 12, 2015
Blog by: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer
The Court of Appeals upholds conviction finding that defendant knew or should have known of the presence of drugs and that there was ongoing drug related activity taking place in her bedroom.
Issue: Whether there was sufficient evidence to establish that defendant knew or had reason to know about the presence of drugs and the ongoing drug related activity in the apartment where she lived with children?
Summary: Defendant Sandra Diaz appealed from a judgment convicting her, after a jury trial, of seventh degree criminal drug possession (heroin) (Penal Law § 220.03) and four counts of unlawfully dealing with a child in the first degree (Penal Law § 260.20 ). She was sentenced to concurrent terms of three years of probation. She argued that (a) the verdict was unsupported by, and against the weight of, the evidence including the trial court’s credibility determinations; (b) the trial court improperly allowed the introduction of evidence in the People’s case-in-chief and rebuttal; and (c) the trial court improperly admitted prejudicial hearsay. The Appellate Division, First Department held that (a) there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction; (b) the evidence that defendant knew the term ‘bundle’ referred to 10 glassines of heroin was admissible; (c) the evidence of drug paraphernalia was admissible; and (d) the admission of hearsay evidence was harmless error. A Judge of the Court of Appeals granted defendant leave to appeal on the legal question of whether there was sufficient evidence to support the conviction under Penal Law § 260.20 . The Court of Appeals affirmed in a majority memorandum opinion.
Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the judgment was not clearly erroneous because (a) there was sufficient evidence upon which the jury could readily infer that defendant exercised dominion and control over the contraband found in the bedroom of her apartment; (b) there was sufficient evidence to establish ongoing commercial drug related activity in the apartment where her children lived; and (c) there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that she knowingly permitted children to remain on a premises where she had every reason to know that illegal drug activity was taking place.
Facts: On April 8, 2009, police officers executed a search warrant at a Manhattan address which had been under investigation for potential illegal drug activity for close to a year. Present in the apartment were defendant, her three children, their father Matias Rivera, and defendant’s 10-year old niece. When the police entered, defendant was standing in her “bedroom attire” in the doorway of her bedroom. Inside the bedroom, officers discovered approximately 30 bundled glassine envelopes of heroin; 26 glassine envelopes containing heroin residue; a bottle containing 35 pills of Suboxone (used to treat heroin addiction); numerous items of drug paraphernalia; and defendant’s ink pad, mail, and her son’s health insurance card. No contraband was discovered elsewhere in the apartment. Defendant and Rivera told policy that they both resided in the apartment, which was leased by defendant. They were jointly charged with one count each of third degree (heroin) and fifth degree (Suboxone) criminal drug possession with intent to sell (Penal Law § 220.16 ; 220.06 ); three counts of criminally using drug paraphernalia in the second degree for possessing lactose (a narcotic dilutant), empty glassine envelopes and a scale, under circumstances evincing knowledge that some person intends to use those items for the purpose of manufacturing, packaging or dispensing a narcotic drug for sale (Penal Law § 220.50 ); and four counts of unlawfully dealing with a child in the first degree (Penal Law § 260.20 ).
During trial, defendant testified that she understood why she was arrested — the police had “found the stuff” in her bedroom. However, she claimed to have been unaware that the narcotics and paraphernalia were present there. Rivera testified at trial that the narcotics belonged to him. The jury acquitted defendant of the criminal drug possession with intent to sell and paraphernalia crimes, but convicted her of the lesser included offense of seventh degree criminal drug possession (heroin) (Penal Law § 220.03) and the four counts of unlawfully dealing with a child. The jury also acquitted Rivera of possession with intent to sell, but convicted him of seventh degree criminal drug possession (both the heroin and the Suboxone), the three drug paraphernalia counts and the four counts of unlawfully dealing with a child.
Legal Analysis: First, the Court of Appeals held the verdict was supported by legally sufficient evidence and was not against the weight of evidence. The bundled glassines of heroin and drug paraphernalia found exclusively in defendant’s bedroom, in plain view, and mixed in with her personal belongings supported the conclusion that she exercised sufficient dominion and control over the contraband pursuant to People v Manini, 79 N.Y.2d 561, 573. Further, there was sufficient evidence to permit the inference that defendant knew or should have known what was in her bedroom pursuant to People v Reisman, 29 N.Y.2d 278, 285. Next, the majority held that the evidence established the elements of first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child (Penal Law § 260.20 ), which requires the alleged offender to know or have reason to know about ongoing commercial drug related activity in a place where a child is present. The jury convicted Rivera of three counts of second degree criminal use of drug paraphernalia. Such activity, related to drug trafficking and taking place in defendant’s apartment, is plainly commercial and ongoing. Therefore, defendant knew or should have known that a large amount of heroin and drug paraphernalia were in her apartment where four children under the age of 18 lived. Finally, there was sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that defendant knowingly permitted children to remain in her apartment where she had every reason to know that illegal activity was taking place.