New York Court Denies Defendant’s Appeal in Drug and Firearm Case, Despite Argument Citing Newly Enacted Marijuana Law

In a recent case coming out of a New York court, the defendant appealed his guilty conviction for criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. Officers searched for this weapon only because they had previously smelled marijuana in the defendant’s car, making them suspicious of additional drug or criminal activity. In his appeal, the defendant relied on a recently enacted law that legalizes possession of marijuana in certain amounts for individuals who are 21 or older in New York. The court acknowledged this new law but ultimately ruled that the law does not apply to convictions that occurred before the passage of the law in 2021. The Court found that the police officer had reasonable cause to believe that there was contraband located in the car, to wit marijuana.  At the time of the search, possession of marijuana was still illegal in New York.  Therefore, because the defendant was charged in 2018, he could not use the law to argue for his conviction to be overturned.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, two police officers were patrolling one evening in his car when they noticed the defendant pull away from the curb without signaling. The officers signaled the defendant to pull over and then conducted a traffic stop. Once the defendant rolled down his car window, the officers immediately smelled a strong odor of marijuana.

After the officers asked the defendant whether there was, in fact, marijuana in the car, the defendant answered in the affirmative and opened his center console. The officers found two bags of marijuana and $1,000 cash. Continuing to smell the marijuana, the officers searched other areas of the car and subsequently found a loaded firearm in the trunk.

The Decision

The defendant was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree. On appeal, he argued the officers did not have permission to continue searching his vehicle, and that thus the evidence of the weapon should have been suppressed. According to the defendant, the Marijuana Regulation and Tax Act (MRTA) became effective in 2021, and this law both legalizes marijuana possession in certain circumstances and states that officers cannot prove they suspect criminal activity solely based on the smell of marijuana. Thus, if the officers did not have a legal reason to suspect criminal activity, they should not have been allowed to search the vehicle and the evidence should have been suppressed.

The court acknowledged that the MRTA did change the scope of marijuana laws in New York. At the same time, said the court, the law was enacted in 2021. The defendant was pulled over in 2018. The legislators that drafted the MRTA did not specifically say in the law that it applies to cases in the past; the law only applies to cases from 2021 onwards. Given this reality, the defendant could not justifiably use the MRTA as an argument on appeal. The defendant’s appeal was thus denied.

Have You Been Charged with Drug Possession in New York?

At Tilem & Associates, we carefully track changes in New York criminal law and monitor how these changes will affect cases like yours. If you have been charged with a drug crime in New York, it is important that you speak with an expert who can walk you through the relevant laws and present you with your options. We have been proudly representing the rights of individuals facing a wide range of legal matters for more than 25 years, and we are ready to stand with you to ensure that your voice is heard. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 914-415-6688.

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