Peopel v. Ryan

Court of Appeals of New York.  82 N.Y.2d. 497, 626 N.E. 2d. 51 (1993)

Facts:  Penal Law 220.18(5) makes it a felony to “knowingly and unlawfully possess…six hundred twenty-five milligrams of a hallucinogen.”  D asked his friend Hopkins to order and receive a shipment of hallucinogenic mushrooms on his behalf.  Hopkins was arrested and then explained that the package was for D.  Then police recorded phone calls between Hopkins and D where Hopkins explained that there were a “shitload of mushrooms in there”.  D responded, “I know, don’t say nothing”.  At another point Hopkins told the defendant that there was 2 pounds.  After the two agreed to meet and Hopkins handed D a substitute package and he was then arrested.  He was later indicted for attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance in the 2nd degree.  Total weight of the mushrooms was 932.8 grams, and that 140 gram sample of the package contained 796 milligrams of psilocybin, a hallucinogen.  No evidence was offered as to how much psilocybin would appear in 2 lbs. of mushrooms.  Defendant moved to dismiss for insufficient proof that he knew the level of psilocybin in the mushrooms…

Procedural History: D was convicted as charged. Appellate division affirmed, acknowledging that the weight of the substance is an element of the crime.  Now case is before the Court of Appeals of New York.

Issue:  1) Does “knowingly” apply to the weight of the substance? 2) Is D guilty of the crime in question?

Holding: 1) Yes, knowingly applies to the weight of the substance.  2) D is not guilty.

Reasoning: 1) Goal is to implement the will of the legislature. Court feels that this is the obvious meaning and intention of the legislature>>there is a mens rea element associated with the weight of the drug.  If any material element of an offense lacks a mens rea element, then it is a strict liability crime (Penal Law 15.10).  Conversely, a crime is one of “mental culpability” only when a mental state “is required with respect to every material element of an offense”.  The People have expressed concern with the difficulty of proving the knowledge of weight.  However, this can be proved by negotiations concerning weight, potency, or price….2)There was no evidence linking psilocybin weight to mushroom weight…There was insufficient evidence to satisfy the knowledge requirement within the meaning of the statute…

Comments are closed.