Possession of Cocaine, Palos Verdes Estates, Dismissal

Our client, age 18, had just graduated from high school and, the same day, was asked by some of her friends to go out to dinner together.  They went to their favorite restaurant and enjoyed a good dinner without their parents.
 
The group then decided to smoke some marijuana together near the concrete entry way to a large storm drain that was away from any houses and had a neat echo effect.
 
The group believed they were being quiet when they parked their car at about 1:30 a.m. and walked over to the storm drain area.  However, a nearby neighbor was up working in his garage and heard the giggles and laughing of the group, as well as the closing doors and hushed talking.  After all, sound travels well at night and this evening was not unusual.

The neighbor called the police, suspecting that the group was intending to vandalize the storm drain with graffiti or smoke pot, or both.

The neighbor’s hunch proved correct, as when the Palos Verdes Estates Police arrived, they observed our client, with her three friends, sitting in a circle, getting ready to smoke marijuana.  The officers made enough noise to alert the group and two of the boys tossed spray paint cans toward the open storm drain grate.  The noise was unmistakable as to what was thrown.

Officers quickly approached the kids, all eighteen years old, except for one who was a juvenile.  Two of the boys immediately explained that, yes, they had spray painted the walls, but were adamant that our client and another male did not vandalize as well.

The officers did not search for marijuana in the pockets of any the four youths.  However, they asked our client for her driver’s license and the client explained that “it is in the car.”  The car was not her car, but the officer quickly went to the car and without asking for consent or permission from the owner, opened the door and searched for our client’s purse.

There was no reason whatsoever for the officer to need such identification if he was not going to cite our client for anything.  She was no longer a juvenile, so a curfew violation was not possible and she was not trespassing, committing vandalism or in the possession of any controlled substance while sitting at the concrete apron to the storm drain.

In the purse, he found our client’s ID and claimed that “in plain view” he also saw a baggie of a white powdery substance he recognized as cocaine.  Our client was then immediately arrested for possession of a controlled substance, a misdemeanor, as a violation of Health and Safety Code § 11550(a).

The client then spent an evening in the Palos Verdes Estates Police Department jail, before being released to her mom.

The case was filed in the Torrance Superior Court and Greg Hill appeared at the arraignment.  Greg reviewed the police report and spotted the unlawful search and seizure issue, although it was not a clean issue because our client arguably had no expectation of privacy in the car of another person.
 
Greg discussed this issue with the handling Torrance District Attorney, who agreed it was not a solid search and seizure issue, but it was problematic for the case.

Greg explained that the same officer did not ask for the identification of the other young man who did not commit vandalism and was not searched for marijuana.  In fact, that young man was not prosecuted at all and was literally released with no charges at all.

Greg argued that the same treatment should have been given to our client.  The prosecutor agreed in principle, but said, “however, she had about 20 grams of cocaine.”  Greg agreed, but asked for diversion regardless.  Greg proposed a dismissal of the case if our client attended twenty narcotics anonymous (NA) meetings.

The prosecutor upped it to thirty and Greg continued the arraignment 60 days, to allow his client time to attend the thirty NA meetings.  The good thing about such an offer was that the client would not even enter a “no contest” plea to the charge, as the other defendants were required to do to the vandalism charge, although they, too, were offered diversion, but with considerably more uncomfortable terms (80 hours of community service).

The client was very happy with the outcome and eager to “earn the dismissal,” which she did after attending the NA meetings.

For more information about possession of a controlled substance, diversion and judicial diversion, please click on the following articles:
  1. What Is Possession of a Controlled Substance & the Defenses?
  2. What Is Diversion, Delayed Entry of Plea and Deferred Entry of Judgment?
  3. AB 2124 – The New Pilot Program for Diversion of First-Time, Low Level Offenders in Los Angeles County Only
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