How to Beat your New York Marijuana Possession Summons
Marijuana Possession in New York
Marijuana possession laws in New York vary from lenient to severe, depending on the quantity of the marijuana possessed at the time of arrest and whether the individual was also in the process of selling marijuana at the time of arrest. For purposes of this article, we shall deal solely with the following crimes: criminal possession of marijuana, unauthorized possession of marijuana and criminal possession of a controlled substance.
If you were arrested for marijuana possession and fingerprinted at the local precinct or issued a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT), your situation is more serious than that being discussed here and you should refer to New York Marijuana Law for more information.
Breaking Down the Marijuana Possession Summons
Let's take a look at your NYC criminal possession of marijuana summons or unlawful possession of marijuana ticket so as to demonstrate the ten different sections of the ticket that may result in a dismissal:
Each NYC Marijuana Possession Pink Summons Ticket can be broken down into Ten (10) different sections.
- SUMMONS NUMBER: This 10-digit number typically begins with a '4' and is visible at the top-left portion of the pink summons. This number is one of the ways in which these cases are tracked so please write this number down immediately and keep it safe in case you lose your summons.
- IDENTIFICATION: The top section of the pink summons ticket (marked #2) contains your name and address as indicated on the identification provided to the police officer who wrote out the summons. Your criminal court case and record are tracked by the identification provided to the police officer who wrote the summons. If by chance, the police officer incorrectly spelled or wrote down your name, you should speak with a New York marijuana possession lawyer before deciding to skip out on your court appearance. Also, be advised that failure to present a valid driver's license or photo ID may result in you being handcuffed, taken to the local precinct and being booked, photographed and fingerprinted. NEVER REFUSE TO SHOW ID to a police officer!
- TIME, DATE, COUNTY and PRECINCT: The next portion of the summons contains information that helps the State of New York establish a record of the time and date of your citation. This means that the summons must contain the time, date and county to sufficiently establish when and where the crime/violation occurred. Failure to properly and accurately indicate the time or date of the incident may constitute grounds for a dismissal.
- PLACE OF OCCURRENCE: The location description may abbreviate a specific address such as 'F/O 225 Broadway' or a corner such as 'C/O Reade and Broadway'. The description of a place of occurrence that does not exist may be grounds for dismissal upon motion to the court.
- IN VIOLATION OF: Beneath that section, on the left (marked #2) is where the police officer has indicated the specific statute or law that was violated. Unlawful possession of marijuana is 221.05. Criminal possession of marijuana in the 5th degree is 221.10. Criminal possession of marijuana in the 4th degree is 221.15. Failure to indicate the statute or the proper statute is a facial defect that should require dismissal by the judge.
- DESCRIPTION OF CRIMINAL COURT OFFENSE: Immediately beneath the violation, the police officer must indicate the name of the violation. For the most part, this will read either 'Unlawful Possession of Marijuana' or 'Criminal Possession Marijuana', but occasionally simply reads 'Marijuana Possession. If this section is left blank, but the correct violation statute (Section 5) is listed, the judge probably will not dismiss the summons.
- COURT LOCATION and DATE: The pink marijuana ticket is an actual summons, and in this section it states that 'The Person described above is SUMMONED to appear at CRIMINAL COURT' followed by the address of the courthouse and the date on which you or your New York marijuana defense lawyer must appear before the court. The failure to direct the defendant to appear in court is a facial deficiency that should require dismissal, but some of the judges will deny a motion to dismiss on this basis.
- SIGNATURE OF COMPLAINANT: The complainant is the police officer who wrote the pink ticket that was given to you. Occasionally, you will find that the police officer failed to properly sign the summons. Upon motion to the Court, a summons lacking the signature of the complainant should be dismissed.
- YOUR SIGNATURE: Beneath the Police Officer's signature line is a space for you to sign and acknowledge receipt of the summons. This section is NOT REQUIRED to be completed and the failure of a defendant to sign this section is not grounds for a dismissal. If the police officer indicated 'RTS', that is an internal NYPD acronym for 'Refused To Sign'.
- THE BACK OF THE SUMMONS: The front of the summons contains all of the basic information needed to process the summons, but the law requires the officer to provide a sworn statement of personally observed facts to accompany each summons. Even though the police officer may not have made any mistakes or factual errors on the face of the summons, the summons could still be deemed defective if the policeman failed to properly establish his personal observation of the specific facts leading to the issuance of the summons. Unfortunately, you don't get to see the back of the pink summons unless you appear in Court and request a copy from the Clerk's office. This is where having an experienced criminal defense lawyer comes into play. Failing to accurately describe the alleged incident may result in a dismissal upon motion by your New York marijuana possession attorney.
BONUS TIP: The Lab Report
A question I often answer is 'How can the police prove that it was marijuana without a lab test?' And the answer may surprise you. In New York City courts, many of the judges will actually dismiss a marijuana case without a lab report indicating that the substance tests positive for marijuana and is not oregano or some other marijuana substitute. A good criminal defense attorney will check to make sure there is a lab report and review the lab report to verify that the substance was confirmed to be marijuana and what the weight of the marijuana is.
If there is no lab report, some judges will accept the testimony of the police officer that 'in his experience', the subject substance is, in fact, marijuana. Other judges will dismiss or reduce the charges.
The downside of this is that if there is a lab report verifying the presence of marijuana, many judges will NOT dismiss the charge. Unfortunately, defendants do not have the opportunity to review the lab report and most won't be aware of whether one was prepared for his or her particular case. Even if you were planning to handle your case yourself, you may want to hire a lawyer just to verify the existence of such a report with the clerk's office. Knowing this crucial piece of information may help you determine whether to go alone or hire an attorney for your actual court appearance!
Marijuana Possession Courtroom Tips
If you have a summons or DAT returnable to New York Criminal Court, then here are a few additional tips to help you attain the best possible results on your marijuana possession case.
- Dress professionally: You might think this goes without saying, but one trip to 346 Broadway and you might be convinced that a torn t-shirt and ripped jeans is proper courtroom attire. Newsflash: It's not.
- Do Not Speak Unless the Judge Speaks to You: There's nothing more painful to watch than a defendant getting nastily scolded by the court officers or judge for unsolicited speaking. Don't say anything while you are in front of the Judge unless and until the Judge speaks to you first. And if the Judge is in the courtroom and you're waiting for your case to be called, keep those lips zipped.
- Turn off your Cell Phone: Many a defendant have been punished for an inadvertent cell phone ringtone, text message beep or music by being made to wait all day in the hot hallway (no benches) without having their case even called. Nothing angers the court officers more than cell phones. Don't risk it. Turn it off.
- Listen to Your Lawyer: If you are represented by a private marijuana defense lawyer, consider that the reason you paid him or her was to provide effective representation. Don't argue with your lawyer in front of the judge. If are indigent (unable to pay a private lawyer) and are represented by the public defender, ask to speak to him or her privately if you feel as though you are being pressured to accept a resolution that is not acceptable to you.
- Be Respectful: If your case is on for trial and the arresting police officer is present in the courtroom, be respectful at all times. Different judges may vary in their demeanor on marijuana possession cases -- some don't consider marijuana possession to be serious and others probably take marijuana possession too seriously -- but the most important thing to remember when appearing in front of a judge is that you only get ONE chance to make an impression upon the judge. Your appearance, your demeanor, and your respectfulness toward the bench and court are all equally as important as the actual charge against you. If you are fortunate enough to get a favorable Judge, don't give the him or her a reason to rule against you.
About the Author
Author and New York Criminal Defense Lawyer Jason Stern has been handling marijuana cases for almost 20 years. During that time, he has been featured on or quoted by The New York Times, Good Morning America, CNN, Headline News, ABC News, The Wall Street Journal, Fox News and several other media outlets.
If you or a loved one has been arrested or cited for a marijuana charge in New York, you may contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mention HUBPAGES in the subject line for a free telephone consultation.
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