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Defendant Appeals Drug Conviction, Citing Inadequacy of Arresting Officer’s Original Statement

In a recent New York drug case, the defendant successfully appealed his conviction for drug possession. When the defendant was originally charged in 2018, the officer arresting him failed to provide specific enough information that would allow a court to conclude that the defendant possessed illegal drugs. Because the defendant successfully argued that this officer’s error meant that he never should have been charged and convicted in the first place, the court of appeals reversed his guilty verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was charged approximately four years ago with criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. When the arresting officer wrote out the accusatory statement that is necessary in every criminal case, the officer described the drug as “synthetic cannabinoid/synthetic marijuana.”

The defendant pled guilty to possession and was sentenced to a conditional discharge. He later appealed after consulting with an attorney, learning that the officer’s original statement did not provide enough specificity to qualify as adequate grounds for the State to criminally charge him. Originally, the court denied the defendant’s request, but the defendant appealed once more. This time, a higher court concluded that the defendant had successfully argued his case and that his conviction should indeed be reversed.

The Decision

The court began its opinion by stating that normally, guilty pleas are not eligible for reversal on appeal, but there is an exception when the prosecution fails to meet its burden of sufficiently stating a cause of action. Here, said the court, the police officer clearly failed to include enough details in his original statement to warrant charging and convicting the defendant.

In New York, certain synthetic cannabinoids are controlled substances, but not all known synthetic cannabinoids are illegal for individuals to possess. Hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids exist, but New York law only lists ten specific kinds of cannabinoids that are illegal. Thus, said the court, it is crucial that an arresting officer list exactly what kind of cannabinoid he or she found on a defendant when conducting an arrest. Without this information, it is entirely possible that the defendant could possess a type of drug that is not actually illegal, and the defendant could be unfairly subject to criminal penalties as a result.

Because the officer in this case wrote only in broad terms about the drugs he found on the defendant, his statement was insufficient and did not meet the standard for specificity that was required. The description could have described any of hundreds of substances.  Thus, the court agreed with the defendant and ended up reversing his conviction based upon what the Court found to be a jurisdictional defect.

Have You Been Charged with Drug Possession in New York?

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges based on drug possession in the state of New York, call our office at Tilem & Associates. We know what it takes to successfully fight New York drug charges, and we will do whatever we can to give you the successful outcome you deserve. For a free and confidential consultation, give us a call today at 888-377-8666.

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