Refusal and Drug Paraphernalia Convictions Upheld by Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals upheld a refusal to submit to chemical testing and possession of drug paraphernalia convictions after he was arrested for DWI in an opinion filed August 8, 2011.

Defendant William Michael Mahoney argues on appeal that he is entitled to a new trial on the basis that the jury instructions on test refusal were wrong, the district court erred by admitting a pipe that the officer testified was a “marijuana pipe” into evidence, and the evidence was insufficient.

Defendant was stopped after an officer observed his pickup truck cross a center line when making a wide turn and then drive onto the curb with both passenger side tires. The officer observed an odor of alcohol and that the Defendant had difficulty responding to questions. In addition, the officer noted that the Defendant had difficulty keeping his balance after he was asked to step out of the vehicle. Defendant was arrested after he failed field sobriety testing, and refused to submit to a PBT (preliminary breath test). After a reading of the Implied Consent Advisory, Defendant refused multiple requests to submit to a blood or urine test. A small amount of marijuana and a pipe with marijuana residue was found during an inventory search of Defendant’s truck.

A jury trial was held on charges of 2nd degree refusal to submit to a chemical test, 3rd degree DWI, failure to drive in a single traffic lane, and possession of drug paraphernalia. The jury found Defendant guilty on refusal to submit to a chemical test and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Defendant’s concern about the district court’s admitting the “marijuana pipe” was that it was prejudicial because it contained a visible charred substance. Defendant argued that unless the pipe were cleaned, it should not be allowed into evidence. The Court of Appeals decided that previous caselaw sets forth that the condition of items to be offered into evidence should not be changed. Further, Defendant was not able to cite to any authority that the pipe should be cleaned prior to being offered into evidence, therefore, the district court did not err by allowing for the pipe showing marijuana residue to be introduced into evidence.

Defendant argued that he was prejudiced by the officer’s testimony that the pipe was a “marijuana pipe.” Prior to the trial, the district court set forth that the state’s witnesses were not allowed to testify as to the charred substance on the pipe. However, the Court of Appeals analyzed the officer’s testimony and found that the officer did not address the substance on the pipe, but rather testified that based on his training an experience a pipe of this particular design is commonly used to smoke marijuana. Defendant did not object to this testimony by the officer either, and therefore, the Court of Appeals reasoned that there was nothing prejudicial about the officer’s testimony.

Defendant also challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support the jury’s findings. He argues there was nothing to suggest the pipe was a “marijuana pipe,” arguing that the pipe could have been used to smoke tobacco. Drug paraphernalia, which is a petty misdemeanor offense (i.e. not a crime), must have the characteristics of a drug paraphernalia as defined by statute and the possessor must intend the item to be used with a controlled substance. The Court of Appeals determined that the officer’s testimony about the pipe was sufficient to meet the requirements of drug paraphernalia.

Finally, Defendant argued that the district court misstated the law when it instructed the jury on the charge of refusal to submit to a chemical test. Defendant was concerned about the wording of the jury instruction with regard to “probable cause” and that a subjective definition was used not an objective definition. The Court of Appeals found that the jury instruction effectively communicated the law and how the jury was to analyze the law and apply it to the evidence, and therefore, the district court did not misstate the law. Further, the Court of Appeals determined that even in the event the district court erred in the instruction, the error was harmless because there was enough evidence to support the convictions even if the jury was not given the correct definition of “probable cause.”

If you are facing test refusal, DWI, or drug possession charges, it is important to protect your rights. Contact a Minneapolis Criminal Defense Attorney right away.

Categories: Drug Crimes, DWI