Wednesday, March 14, 2007

In Re: Ondrel M. (Ct. of Special Appeals)

Filed March 12, 2007. Opinion by Judge Patrick L. Woodward.

Conviction on a charge of possession of a controlled dangerous substance in juvenile court was AFFIRMED.

This case resulted from a high-speed car chase, during which five police cruisers were damaged and all windows broken out before the car, in which Ondrel was a front seat passenger, was stopped. During the process of removing the keys, the arresting officer smelled an aroma of marijuana, and the subsequent search discovered and tests confirmed small quantities of the drug behind the driver's seat.

At trial, Ondrel was found to have been in possession of marijuana and thus was guilty of a delinquent act, and found to be a child in need of guidance, treatment or rehabilitation.

On appeal, Ondrel challenged the sufficiency of the evidence, since there was no testimony that he was in direct possession of the drug. After reviewing the relevant cases, and in particular the Larocca case, and considering the evidence in a light most favorable to the State, the court found the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's decision beyond a reasonable doubt, given Ondrel's proximity to the drugs, the fact that the drugs were not hidden, that he did not have ownership of the vehicle, and that there was evidence of the mutual use and enjoyment of the drugs by the occupants.

The court similarly dealt with Ondrel's challenge to the admission of testimony of the arresting police officer that he had smelled marijuana in the car, even though the officer was not qualified as a trained drug identification expert. Consistent with many prior cases, the court noted that "[a} witness need only to have encountered the smoking of marijuana in daily life to be able to recognize the odor." In this case the officer had been previously exposed to the smell of marijuana in training, and that exposure did not require him to qualify to testify as an expert but did allow him to properly testify as a layperson.

The opinion and order are available in PDF format.

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