Ryan (Defendant) was convicted of felony drug possession. He appealed, arguing that he did not know the weight of the drug he was convicted of possessing
Drug possession laws that have a weight requirement include a mens rea element for the weight of the drugs.
Defendant asked a friend to order and receive a shipment of hallucinogenic mushrooms for him. The police became aware of the order and arrested the friend. The friend told the police of Defendant’s involvement and participated in a taped conversation in which he told Defendant that he had received two pounds of mushrooms. Defendant was then arrested and convicted of felony drug possession for having more than 625 milligrams of a hallucinogen. The package delivered to the friend contained well over the required amount. Defendant appealed, arguing that he did not know the weight of the hallucinogen.
Do drug possession laws with a weight requirement include a mens rea element for the weight of the drugs?
(Kaye, C.J.) Yes. Drug possession laws that have a weight requirement include a mens rea element for the weight of the drugs. The statute proscribes knowingly and unlawfully possessing a certain amount of drugs. The “knowing” requirement applies to both the possession and the amount. This interpretation follows from the rule that criminal statutes include a mens rea requirement for each material element unless the statute is clearly intended to be a strict liability statute. The intent of the knowledge requirement here is to avoid too severe of a punishment for an individual who unknowingly possesses more of a drug than anticipated. Defendant had not actually physically seen the mushrooms and only knew that he possessed two pounds of mushrooms. No evidence was presented to demonstrate that two pounds of mushrooms contains over 625 milligrams of hallucinogen, so his knowledge of the required amount was never proven.
Knowledge is usually proven through inference. If a defendant has handled or seen the material, his knowledge of the amount can be inferred. The court also stated that many laws address the aggregate weight of the drug, including any cutting agents, making it easier to infer knowledge of the amount from physical handling.