Friday, April 13, 2007

People v. Gastello (Cal. Ct. App. - April 13, 2007)

You're busted by the cops. You've got meth in your pocket. They search you but don't find it. You're then arrested and taken directly to jail for being under the influence. At which place you're instructed to empty your pockets, and do so, at which point you reveal that you've got a baggie of meth.

You're obviously guilty of possession. But are you also guilty of the (much bigger) felony offense of bringing drugs into jail in violation of Penal Code sect. 4573, which states that “Except when otherwise authorized . . . any person who, knowingly brings or sends into, or knowingly assists in bringing into, or sending into, any state prison . . . or into any county . . . jail . . . any controlled substance . . . is guilty of a felony. . . .”? After all, you "knowingly" brought the drugs into the jail, since you knew you had 'em on you and that you were going to the jail. Both the plain language of the statute and policy concerns (after all, you could use or sell the drugs to or with other prisoners) mean that you're guilty, right?

Nope. At least according to this opinion by Justice Wiseman.

Others might disagree, but I thought that Justice Wiseman's opinion was both well-written and well-reasoned. It made sense to me, if only as a matter of common sense. Perhaps the drugs were "brought" into jail, but they really weren't "brought" by you; rather, you were brought into prision, and the drugs were merely with you. If all you did was remain silent, and didn't actively intend to bring them in, you're not guilty. Seems right to me.

I thought that Justice Wiseman might also have added that it'd be a little strange -- and perhaps implicate Fifth Amendment concerns -- if, in that setting, you indeed had an obligation to reveal the drugs in your possession under penalty of a huge felony violation if you remained silent. It seems like such a statute would effectively compel self-incrimination (e.g., the admission of your possession of drugs), which would be another reason to interpret the statute in the manner suggested by Justice Wiseman -- to avoid doubts about the constitutional validity of that statute.

But even without that additional argument, Justice Wiseman's opinion seems to comport with both doctrine as well as common sense. So I liked it.