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.