The Cartersville 63

The weed didn’t walk in there on its own, you know. Somebody bought it. Somebody brought it. But when the cops arrived, nobody had it on their person. When the cops asked whose weed it was, nobody raised their hand. So the cops arrested them all.

At least 63 people were arrested over the weekend on suspicion of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana after police were unable to identify the actual owner of the drug stash found at a house party in Cartersville, Georgia, over the weekend.

Of course, nobody is arrested “on suspicion” of anything. Suspicion is not a crime. They were arrested for possession. Less than an ounce of pot was found, and 63 people were arrested.

Officers also found less than an ounce of marijuana, reported the Cartersville Daily-Tribune. When no one admitted to owning the weed, everyone still at the party was arrested.

“All the subjects at the residence were placed under arrest for the possession of the suspected marijuana which was within everyone’s reach or control,” said the Bartow Cartersville Drug Task Force in a news release.

Weed should be legal? Fine, but it’s not in Georgia. Sixty-three people arrested for less than an ounce is ridiculous? Of course it is, but “non-ridiculous” isn’t an element of the offense. The kids were all black, and this would never have happened if these were white kids? Possibly, maybe even probably, but that doesn’t make it any less of a crime either. As outrageous as this bust is, and it most assuredly is, that does not change the underlying law.

Possession comes in two basic flavors, physical and constructive. Physical possession means you have it on you, whether in your hand, your pocket, your backpack. Constructive means you exercise dominion and control over it. You can reach out a touch it, grab it, use it. When possession is physical, there’s obvious clarity. When it’s constructive, it all gets fuzzy, as it suddenly extends to people whose only connection is theoretical. Hey, you would never grab Joe’s weed because it wasn’t yours and Joe might pop you one in the head for grabbing his weed.

But then, if you don’t tell the cops that it’s Joe’s weed, what’s a cop to think?

This gives rise to the room presumption. It’s a rebuttable presumption that everyone in a room possesses drugs found in the room but not on someone’s person. The point isn’t that the presumption is so overwhelmingly clear and strong that everyone in the room deserves to be arrested, prosecuted and punished, but that the law disapproves of perps gaming the proof to get away with a crime.

Somebody has to take the weight for that weed, and if nobody fesses up to it (or snitches on their pals), then that somebody becomes everybody. Even when there are people in the room (or in this case, at the party) who don’t smoke pot and didn’t have a clue whose pot it was, they’re in the room and burned with the rest of ’em.

Usually, the “everybody” doesn’t end up being 63 people. And the amount possessed isn’t 1/63rd of that “less than an ounce,” however much that might be. Rather, each individual is charged with possession of the quantity of pot found, so that less than an ounce becomes “less than an ounce” times 63.

Does the make the scenario, the 63 arrests any less ridiculous? Of course not, but the room presumption is one of those gimmicks imposing culpability en masse lest drugs be found with no one to blame. From the drug warrior’s perspective, it alleviates an untenable problem, that whoever possesses demon drugs could walk away unscathed merely by not having the drugs on his person and there being more than one person in the room. After all, two people, no evidence that one possessed them more than the other, and you beat the case.

With the room presumption, the system won’t be denied a criminal. Or in this case, 63 criminals, every one of whom will now be subject to the ride, an arrest on their record, the myriad potential impacts to college, military, housing, licensure that comes with arrest (not to mention prosecution and conviction), all for a small amount of weed at a party.

The facile response to this ridiculous scenario is that the arrested kids could have avoided the problem by giving up the name of the person whose pot it was, except that doesn’t help those who had no clue whose pot it was. Remember, it was less than an ounce, and certainly not enough for all 63 people to share. More seriously, it could very well be that no one outside of a small handful had a clue the weed was even there, no less whose it was.

But the rules were made to assure that for every drug crime, there would be someone to pay. And in this instance, 63 to pay.

It seems likely that prosecutors will ultimately exercise discretion and toss most, maybe all, of the arrests. It’s hard to imagine any prosecutor wants to pursue the Cartersville 63, there being little benefit and much embarrassment potential. And it’s likely that the cops arrested the 63 mostly to punish them for their “insolence” in not giving up the real possessor. After all, you can beat the rap but not the ride. But arresting 63 people, impacting that many lives, over less than an ounce of weed is absurdly over-the-top. Even though the law may allow it, this was a bust way too far.

42 comments on “The Cartersville 63

  1. wilbur

    A little added spice to the recipe: When the contraband is found in a place to which more than one person had access, the prosecuting authorities must prove any and each defendant 1) knew it was there, 2) knew what it was 3) and exercised dominion and control over it. These three elements must be proven by evidence other than mere proximity to the contraband.

    1. SHG Post author

      Not when the room presumption is applied. That’s the difference between the room presumption and stand-alone constructive possession.

    1. SHG Post author

      Either a remarkably dry party or a bunch of selfish cheapskates. They should get a medal for being so clean.

  2. Aggie

    Full confession: I’m not a lawyer, but the way this situation was handled was not only ridiculous and vindictive, it’s unconstitutional, a waste of taxpayer $$ and an unnecessary waste of judicial time & resources that surely could be spent more productively.
    Where are these “for every drug crime, there would be someone to pay” rules written and on what authority? Is this actual GA law?
    These people don’t have a right to remain silent or the right to be presumed innocent until proof exists that they really are guilty? The justification for arresting all 63 for possessing the total of however much weed there was means that in 62 of those cases the officers falsified evidence. It’s imaginary weed. If the point of having laws and policemen to enforce them is to serve justice, the only way to charge all of these people would be to DIVIDE the weed between them all, no?
    To me this story is a perfect example of the thinking that’s drove our entire judicial system into a ditch.

    1. SHG Post author

      You didn’t really have to inform us that you weren’t a lawyer. That said, you don’t get to call something “unconstitutional” because you don’t like it, you don’t get to deny the law is what it is because you don’t agree with it. If you feel compelled to call bullshit, then you need to have some tiny, itty-bitty clue what you’re talking about or you’re just making noise.

      1. Miles

        It’s gonna be one of those days again. For your own sanity, just delete this crap. It contributes absolutely nothing. You know you want to. Just do it.

        1. SHG Post author

          Given the way things have gone thus far, I may start using a heavier hand on the trash button. This is ridiculous.

      2. LocoYokel

        Not a lawyer, and not gonna call it unconstitutional or not in accordance with the law, but I’m still gonna call bullshit on the episode. Ya, it’s the law but this is a prime example of laws that need changing.

          1. LocoYokel

            Just wanted to see if I could push that button a little bit sideways.

            Because I care.

            Happy New Year SHG.

            Completely off topic, but does your captcha filter by IP? When I’m at work it just spins the circle and gives the green check. When I was at home last week it made me keep sorting through pictures of signs, cars, or roads.

            1. SHG Post author

              Figures you’re just screwing with me, because I don’t get enough aggravation here.

              Beats me how the captcha works. I don’t use it. I miss the old math captcha and wish they hadn’t improved it to the point of failure.

  3. kemn

    So, can they start arresting anyone in a city if someone leaves an ounce of weed out in the open, with the presumption that everyone in the city had access to it?

  4. Eddie Harrington

    I remember in my crazy college days at Albany a friend of mine came up from Long Island to pick me and another guy up to head over to Oneonta for the weekend. He had his brother’s car and then drove like a madman right through Cobleskill where we got pulled over by a State Trooper for speeding. Unbeknownst to myself or the other guy from Albany, this friend had a few bags of pot in the trunk ready to be sold – 17 grams in total. Of course, all three of us denied knowing how it got there and that was definitely true for at least two of us. So they took us all to the jail and had us sit behind bars for a while before one Trooper comes over and says if one of us doesn’t cop to it we are all getting charged. Discuss amongst yourselves. We looked at our friend and said enough is enough. He agreed to plead guilty to possession and they then took my friend in front of a judge and fined us, coincidentally enough, every penny the three of us had and then sent us on our merry way. Good times!!

      1. wilbur

        Geez, I never heard of either one of these presumptions.

        As I read the room presumption, it seems to apply only to drugs which are intended to be sold, which would seem to ameliorate it a little bit.

        And “omnibus”? Did Monty Burns write these statutes?

  5. R. Ross

    This event was called a “house” party. In one comment response you said ” what part of the word room eluded you. All 63 of those people were probably not in one room, does the Room Presumption define room?

    1. SHG Post author

      That’s an excellent point, and the story provides no answer. It may well be that the room presumption doesn’t apply to everyone in the group, but we don’t have the information to make nuanced distinctions.

      1. Jeff Gamso

        Nuanced decisions? When they busted 63 folks for 1/63rd of less than an ounce?

        Ain’t nobody doing nuance here.

        ‘Course, it’s Georgia, where an ounce is maybe measured a lot differently than it is in other parts of the English-speaking world.

        1. SHG Post author

          Nuance has to do with where each individual was in the house, layout, etc., to ascertain whether the room presumption applies. We may talk about the group in the aggregate, but 63 or 163, each individual is entitled to an individualized assessment of their culpability or lack thereof.

          1. Jeff Gamso

            I was going a bit orthogonal.

            But while the story as available might not provide the info for a nuanced analysis of whether all 63 could properly (if offensively and stupidly) have been charged, the cops’ decision about whether to do what the law may have allowed involves some feeling for nuance, too.

            1. SHG Post author

              Ah, so your nuance complaint was that they failed to exercise discretion as you would want them to. I bet there’s a Latin maxim for that. Stercus accidit, perhaps?

            2. SHG Post author

              On the contrary, from the cops’ perspective, they exercised it perfectly. None of the kids ratted, so they all paid. That’s the problem with discretion. People exercise it their way instead of ours.

  6. Eliot J CLingman

    “If the law supposes that, then the law is an ass” … apologies to Charles Sickens.

    [Ed. Note: I know you corrected the typo in the last name, but I preferred the typo.]

  7. pav

    This extremely broad “room presumption” is statutory in NY, and I don’t think GA has it or that GA courts have invented it. Seems likely that the room presumption won’t substitute for individualized probable cause in these cases.

    1. SHG Post author

      If so (and since I’m not a GA lawyer and really don’t care to research GA law), then they fall back on constructive possession. But you think they’re going to pursue 63 defendants to trial and reach the issues?

        1. SHG Post author

          Waco bikers. Trump inauguration protesters. It rarely turns out well. On the other hand, the Pizza Connection case, so not always.

      1. pav

        Your guess is as good as mine, and my guess is “no.” I’m not in GA either, but I can’t imagine constructive possession being stretched so far. Ever seen the NY presumption applied so broadly?

        The officers searched 63 people incident to arrest/booking, though, and discovered other contraband. Maybe a kid will win a motion to suppress after spending six months in county jail.

      2. Gretz

        I would guess that answer depends heavily on “How much money can they fine / seize from everyone who attended. Following the presumption that everyone in the room was guilty, everyone carried it in their car at some point. Fire up the tow trucks!

        It’s like a bad remake of an Agatha Christie Movie: Stoners on the Orient Express. They’re all guilty!

  8. Matthew S Wideman

    I was very impressed with these kids. Not one of them squeeled or NARC’d on another. That is some impressive solidarity. This sort of situation happened at a house party when I was in highschool….when the cops showed up with a paddy wagon to take us all to jail. 20+ kids asked if they could talk to the police officer privately in his cruiser about who the real Pablo Escobar was at the party. By the end of the night, the cops made most of us confidential informants.

  9. Pithy the Fool

    A New Black Stoner’s Ratio? [sorry]
    Possible entrapment defence, I know from some old crime documentaries that the best way to solve a crime is to gather everyone together in one room, usually the drawing room, or the dining carriage may suffice. (relevant Python link omitted as not very good).

  10. JimEd

    With people I don’t really know
    Some smoking a bong on down low
    The cops just bust in
    The color of skin
    Is 63 shades of unknown

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