Case Study: Meth Addict Loses Appeal; Sentence to Drug Treatment Program Probation under Prop 36
On the evening of April 4, 2008, Lloyd Glover’s car was pulled over for speeding. He and Steven Wright were on their way home from a casino; Wright was driving and Glover was in the passenger seat. The officer asked Wright for his license, registration and proof of insurance; he was unable to produce any of the requested documentation. The officer then asked Wright to step over to the police cruiser, which was parked directly behind Glover’s car, about ten feet away.
The police officer was standing near the front passenger side of the cop car when Glover asked if he could step out of his car to smoke a cigarette. The officer agreed; as Glover opened the door and started to exit the vehicle, two syringes dropped to the ground. One of the syringes contained a clear liquid and the other contained a reddish liquid.
The officer approached Glover and asked him if he was diabetic; Glover replied in the negative. He did, however, tell the cop that he “messed up” and that both syringes contained meth. The officer immediately arrested Glover, read him his Miranda rights, and called for backup. At the time of his arrest, defendant did not exhibit any signs of being under the influence of methamphetamine. When backup arrived, Glover told the cop that a lady friend shot him up with meth earlier that morning but, because she did not use the entire amount, some of the reddish liquid remained in the syringe. He admitted that he was saving it for future use.
At trial, Glover testified that he found the syringes in the armrest of his car just moments before being pulled over and denied knowing that there were syringes filled with meth in his car. He also denied having been shot up with meth earlier that morning. Instead, Glover claimed that a woman who had access to his vehicle came to his house and must have stolen the syringes from his diabetic roommate, filled them with meth, and put them in his car.
The jury found Glover guilty of felony transportation of a controlled substance (California Health & Safety Code, section 11379(a)), felony possession of a controlled substance (Health & Safety Code, section 11377(a)), and misdemeanor unlawful possession of a hypodermic needle and syringe (Business and Professional Code, section 4140). The trial court granted defendant probation under Proposition 36, which will allow Glover to attend a drug treatment program instead of serving time in jail. Drug treatment probation is typically available to those convicted of nonviolent drug possession offenses.
On appeal, Glover complains that the only evidence to implicate him was circumstantial evidence concerning his state of mind; evidence that syringes containing meth fell from his lap automatically meant (at least in the mind of the jury) that he knew they were filled with meth. Although the officer’s testimony was direct evidence that Glover knew of syringes containing methamphetamine, only circumstantial evidence showed that Glover knew those syringes were in the vehicle. Since the trial judge failed to instruct the jury on how to evaluate circumstantial evidence, failure to do so violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial by jury and due process.
The Court of Appeal rejected Glover’s argument, declaring that the conviction was not predicated on circumstantial evidence. The Court declared that Glover’s statements to the officer were direct evidence that he knew syringes containing meth were in his car.
Even if the trial court should have instructed the jury on how to evaluate circumstantial evidence, failure to do so was simply harmless error and does not require Glover’s conviction to be overturned. There was overwhelming evidence that Glover was guilty; two of syringes of meth fell to the ground at the moment Glover exited his car, he told the officer that he “messed up” and that both syringes contained meth, he admitted using meth from one of those syringes earlier that morning and to saving the rest of the reddish liquid for later use and, finally, declared that he knew he should not have had meth on his person. Thus, any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.