This week the Minnesota Supreme Court decided a pretty interesting case concerning the intent to sell drugs. The key word in that phrase is “intent”, but maybe a better word is “impression”. The court decided that if a person’s paraphernalia gives the impression that one may be selling or sharing drugs, that is enough for a conviction for “intent” to sell.
This entire process started with a stroke of bad luck for our defendant, Mr. Hanson in State v. Hanson. The police showed up looking for his buddy, J.G., for whom they had an arrest warrant. Mr. Hanson told the police that J.G. wasn’t home, but agreed to allow them to search the house to confirm J.G. was not actually there.
During their search, one of the officers spotted a bag of “crystal-like material” on top of a dresser in one of the bedrooms. Near the bag were two glass pipes and a glass bowl. When questioned by the officers as to what was in the bag, Mr. Hanson was unable to give a definitive answer, first saying it was riboflavin, then garbage, then rat poison, later changing his story to say it belonged to one of J.G.’s friends. (Note: if you find yourself having to change your story, your already in trouble, This is when you need to exercise your Right to Remain Silent – and shut up.)
An investigation confirmed the “crystal-like material” was in fact methamphetamines. Mr. Hanson was placed under arrest, and police later seized a small digital scale from Mr. Hanson’s person. Such scales are typically used in narcotics transactions.
With a search warrant of Mr. Hanson’s home, the police seized 23 more items, including 100 plastic bags, a razor blade, the paraphernalia the officer saw earlier, and eight pipes. In total, 12.6 grams of methamphetamines were seized.
Mr. Hanson was charged with controlled substance crime in the first degree in violation of section 152.021, which is possession of 10 or more grams of a mixture containing methamphetamine with intent to sell; controlled substance crime in the second degree in violation of section 152.022, which is possession of six or more grams of a mixture containing methamphetamine; and possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of section 152.092.
The district court found him guilty of all three charges and sentenced him to 100 months for the first-degree controlled substance crime. But the court of appeals reversed this conviction, saying “the evidence supports the reasonable inference that Hanson possessed the methamphetamine only for personal use,” and said that as a result, there was a reasonable doubt as to whether Mr. Hanson had any intent to sell the methamphetamines. The Minnesota Supreme Court disagreed.
In its decision the Minnesota Supreme Court quoted section 152.01 to define the term “sell” to mean “(1) to sell, give away, barter, deliver, exchange, distribute or dispose of to another, or to manufacture; or… (3) to possess with intent to perform an act listed in clause (1).” It continued on to say that evidence of intent to sell or distribute includes a large quantity of drugs possessed and the manner of the packaging.
Mr. Hanson possessed 12.6 grams of methamphetamines total, tools used for cutting the methamphetamines as well as 100 unused plastic bags that were found in the same drawer as the tools. In Mr. Hanson’s bathroom was 23.6 grams of a white powdery substance that police believed to be a cutting agent. These possessions, in addition to the digital scale and other items found in Mr. Hanson’s home, led the Minnesota Supreme Court to decide that all of these items could be used in preparation of selling methamphetamines.
A big factor for the court in this case was the 100 plastic bags. They found it convincing that these bags were intended to be used to sell the methamphetamines not only because they were in the same drawer as other methamphetamine products, but also they were the bags typically used in the distribution of methamphetamines. There was also nothing in the record to suggest the bags served any other purpose.
Lastly, the court decided that from the number of pipes Mr. Hanson had, it was clear he intended to share these methamphetamines with others.
The court said all of these individual pieces of evidence form a complete chain that lead directly to Mr. Hanson’s guilt of possessing more than 10 grams of methamphetamines and intending to sell it. It upheld the jury’s verdict that Mr. Hanson was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Like last week’s case, this case can be used as one to dispel another notion – the notion that the consequence of sharing meth with your buddies is different than intending to sell it. As we saw here, if you possess a sufficient amount of methamphetamines and products that could give the impression you were intending to sell or share those drugs with anyone, you can be found guilty of a controlled substance crime in the first degree. All a jury needs to do is decide that beyond a reasonable doubt, the drugs and possessions seized create enough of a chain to prove that you possessed these drugs with intent to share or sell.
The silver lining to this case, not all of us have roommates with warrants out for their arrest leading to the likelihood that the police are going to come knocking. That’s something at least.
By: Kari Wilberg
Landon J. Ascheman, Esq.
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