State v. Adel

In State v. Adel, 136 Wn.2d 629, 965 P.2d 1072 (1998), the Court held that two separately located "stashes" of marijuana--one found in the defendant's convenience store (less than 0.2 grams) and the other found in the defendant's car parked in front of the store (0.1 grams)--constituted one statutory unit of prosecution under Washington's simple possession statute. Adel, 136 Wn.2d at 631, 636. The statute at issue, RCW 69.50.401(e), provides that "any person found guilty of possession of forty grams or less of marijuana shall be guilty of a misdemeanor." RCW 69.50.401(e). Because this statute "fails to indicate whether the Legislature intended to punish a person multiple times for simple possession based upon the drug being stashed in multiple places," the rule of lenity favored a conclusion that Adel had committed "only one count of simple possession." Adel, 136 Wn.2d at 635. In ascertaining "legislative intent regarding the unit of prosecution for a simple possession crime," we referred to the "40 gram cutoff between a misdemeanor and a felony." Id., at 636. In doing so, we noted that "the Legislature focused solely on the quantity of the drug, and did not reference the spatial or temporal aspects of possession." Id. The Court held that "the possession statute does not authorize multiple convictions based upon a drug being stashed in multiple places within a defendant's actual or constructive possession." Id. Since "all of the drugs found . . . were within Adel's dominion and control," he could be convicted of only one crime. Id. The Court focused on the quantity of drugs within the defendant's dominion and control, rather than on the defendant's intent.