Is Field Testing of Drugs Sufficient to Establish Drug Possession Crime ?
In People v. Swamp (84 NY2d 725 1995), the defendant was indicted for unlawful possession of cocaine.
The trial court dismissed the indictment.
The Appellate Division reversed and reinstated, determining that the observations and field testing of the substance by two trained officers were sufficient to establish, prima facie, that the defendant possessed cocaine.
As the Swamp dissent in the Court of Appeals later observed, "there is no showing ... that the field test was generally accepted as reliable," and to the contrary 7 NYCRR 1010.5 (d) specifically cautions that " 'the results of a single test may or may not yield a valid result.' " (84 NY2d, at 735.)
The Appellate Division nevertheless rejected the defendant's contention that results of a formal laboratory analysis were required to support an indictment.
The Court of Appeals affirmed.
The dissent in Swamp objected that the trial court decision "was consistent with those cases requiring a laboratory report for the prosecution of, as opposed to the arrest of, an individual" (84 NY2d, at 734-735, citing, inter alia, People v. Brightman, supra, and People v. Burton, supra), and argued that "the evidence which is legally sufficient to indict must be legally sufficient to convict" (84 NY2d, at 736).
The Court of Appeals majority, however, held:
"In a drug-related prosecution, the People's case is legally sufficient if the evidence provides a 'reliable basis' for inferring the presence of a controlled substance.
"We conclude that the trial court erred when it held that in order to establish a prima facie case, CPL 190.30 (2) required the People to submit results of a formal laboratory analysis of the substance seized from defendant ... Here, the officer who performed the field test actually testified before the Grand Jury as to his own observations ...
"The officer recounted the observations that led him to conclude defendant possessed cocaine, including the telltale packaging in which the substance was found--a substance that looked like crack-cocaine, which he had been trained to identify--and the presence of drug paraphernalia in defendant's car.
The officer's testimony was probative of whether the substance found in defendant's possession was cocaine...
"This evidence provided a reasonable basis for the Grand Jury to infer defendant possessed cocaine
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt was not required at this stage." (84 NY2d, at 730-733.)