IT DEPENDS ON WHAT THE DEFINITION OF ‘KNOWINGLY’ IS
In the Case of State v. Miles The South Carolina Court of Appeals clarifies the definition on ‘knowingly’ in a rather entertaining opinion written by Greenville native, Judge Hill.
Lance L. Miles was convicted for trafficking illegal drugs. Miles was sentenced to 25 years and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. In Miles’ appeal he argued that the trial court improperly instructed the jury that the State did not have to prove Miles specifically knew which drugs he was in possession of; he also argued statements were admitted in Court that were in violation of Miranda. This article will focus on the Court’s clarification of the word ‘knowingly’.
The Lexington County Sheriff’s Office were scanning parcels at a FedEx office. Apparently, the Sheriff’s became suspicious of a package and arranged for a controlled delivery of the package. The Sheriff’s observed the delivery person ring the doorbell and leave the package by the front door. Moments later a cop saw Miles exit another apartment. The cop then saw a female emerge from the delivery address. The cop stated she looked at the package, got on her phone, hung up and went back inside. Miles then picked up the box and started back to his apartment. Miles noticed the cops closing in on him and he tried to ditch the box. The cops caught up to Miles and cuffed him.
One of the cops immediately asked Miles about what was in the package. Miles stated he did not know what was inside the package. The cop then asked if drugs were in the package to which Miles responded that drugs were probably in the package but he was unsure of what kind of drugs. Then the cop read Miles his Miranda rights and asked Miles whether there were drugs in the box again. Miles responded as he had prior to Miranda. The cop obtained a search warrant and got Miles’ consent to search the package. The cop found 300 pills that contained a total of 9 grams of oxycodone. The cop asked Miles to write down everything he knew about the drugs. The cop then read Miles his Miranda rights again! Miles wrote a statement that he had been paid $100 to pick up the package from someone named “Mark” that had called him to pick it up, and the owner of the package was a “Stacks” from Tennessee.
At trial, Miles’ argued the case should be dismissed because the State could not prove Miles knew the box contained oxycodone. Miles’ argued that the term “knowingly” applied to each element of the trafficking offense reasoning that the State had to prove that Miles knowingly intended to sell, manufacture, cultivate, or possess illegal drugs AND that Miles had precise knowledge of the type of drugs he had in this case. The Court of Appeals sited precedent which stated that criminal laws that open with ‘knowingly’ don’t necessarily require that each element of the law be proven by that level of intent. The Court reasoned that the Legislature did not intend to require the State to prove a defendant knew the specific type of illegal drug he was trafficking. The Court stated, ‘were we to adopt Miles’ version of subsection (e), the State would have to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant not only knew the drugs were oxycodone, but also knew that oxycodone is a “morphine, opium, salt, isomer, or salt of an isomer thereof, including heroin.’ The Court reasoned, “We doubt the Legislature, in passing the drug trafficking law, meant to create a scenario where a defendant is culpable only if armed with a proficiency in chemistry on par with a pharmacist or Walter White.”
Lawyers are often ridiculed as being too persnickety about the precise definition of words but an advocate must focus on words as in this case the interpretation of words was the difference between a dismissal and a mandatory 25 year prison sentence.
As one of my wisest law professors, Gerald Moran, once said, ‘law school has no meaning, we just play with words’.
Source: State v. Miles
Alex Kornfeld is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Greenville, South Carolina. If you have been arrested or are under suspicion of a crime, it may be in your best interest to consult with an attorney. You may reach Alex by phone at 864-335-9990.