What’s in that package?

Studies show that a dog is a dog is a dog, and the dog’s vaunted nose is no better than a coin flip when it comes to detecting drugs.

But the Supreme Court – the one up in DC stocked lawyers who, with the exception of one Justice Sotomayor, have never tried a case – has ruled that dogs are good enough when it comes to probable cause. Florida v. Harris

Your government routinely deploys these probable cause machines at mail sorting facilities. They sniff, they signal, and they give probable cause to search a package. Maybe it’s a gift from grandma? Maybe it’s 15 pounds of weed.

How accurate are the dogs? Unless you go to trial, you’ll never know. And even then, you’ll have to take the handler’s word for it.

When a package is found to contain drugs, a delivery is arranged, with a police officer dressed as a delivery guy, and a SWAT team ready to storm the residence after delivery is made.

The problem is that sometimes officers jump the gun, banging down a door after the package has been delivered, but before it’s been opened by the recipient.

Assuming the pungent odor of marijuana isn’t wafting from the container, how is the state going to prove that the person accepting the package knew what he or she was really accepting.

Mens rea still means something, doesn’t it? Constructive knowledge is not enough. Actual knowledge is required.

So said the North Carolina Supreme Court in State v. Boone, 310 NC 284 (1984).

Therefore, we apply the same principles enunciated in Elliott and hold that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that defendant could be found guilty of possessing marijuana if he had reason to know that what he possessed was marijuana. Under the circumstances of this case, the court should have instructed the jury that the defendant is guilty only in the event he knew the marijuana was in the trunk of his automobile and that if he was ignorant of that fact, and the jury should so find, they should return a verdict of not guilty.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.