State of Utah v. Chance L. Robinson

2011 UT 30
Filed June 10, 2011

Mr. Robinson was stopped by police on suspicion of driving without insurance. He subsequently failed a sobriety test and was charged with driving under the influence. A urinalysis came back positive for cocaine and benzodiazepine, his blood test came back positive for methamphetamine, and Mr. Robinsons admitted to using heroin. After the results of the blood test came back, the State added a charge of possession or use of methamphetamine. Mr. Robinson filed a motion to quash the bindover on his methamphetamine charge. The trial court denied the motion and Mr. Robinson appealed to the Utah Supreme Court.

The Utah controlled substance act makes it illegal for a person to “knowingly and intentionally” have “any measureable amount of a controlled substance in [his or her] body.” Mr. Robinson argued that this provision is unconstitutional under both the Utah and United States Constitutions.

Utah Constitutional Issues

Mr. Robinson argued that the Utah measurable amount provision violates the due process clause of the Utah Constitution because it would apply to a person who unintentionally or involuntarily had a controlled substance present in his or her body. The Utah Supreme Court held that this argument was erroneous because the measurable amount provision applies only to a person who “knowingly or intentionally” has “any measurable amount of a controlled substance in [his or her] body.” Thus, there is no criminal liability for unintentional or involuntary noncompliance. Even so, Mr. Robinson argued that his due process rights were violated because the State had not presented evidence that he had knowingly and voluntarily ingested the methamphetamine. Again, Mr. Robinson’s argument failed because he had pled guilty to knowingly and intentionally possessing or using methamphetamine, and thereby relieved the State of the burden of proving that he had done so. Finally, Mr. Robinson argued that his due process rights were violated because he had no control over how quickly his body would metabolize the methamphetamine, and he may have initially ingested the methamphetamine in a jurisdiction with lesser penalties. This argument failed because the Supreme Court recognized that while Mr. Robinson may not have been able to control the speed of his metabolic processes, he could always control whether he was in the state of Utah, as well as whether he chose to take methamphetamine in the first place.

Mr. Robinson also argued that Utah’s measurable amount provision violates the uniform operation of laws provisions of the Utah Constitution. The Utah Supreme Court held that it does not because: First, the provision creates a classification of persons based on whether they use illegal drugs in Utah. All persons within that class are treated equally regardless of the speed at which their body metabolizes drugs because the crime being punished is the act of using or being under the influence of the drug, not the amount of the drug present in the person’s system. Second, Mr. Robinson was correct that the statute provides for disparate treatment of the persons within the class because it creates different criminal penalties dependent on the type of illegal substance that is used. This disparate treatment is permissible, however, because the legislature had legitimate reasons for choosing to punish the use of methamphetamine, heroine, and cocaine more severely than the use of marijuana. Third, there is a reasonable relationship between the classification and the legislative purpose because the State has a legitimate interest in preventing people from using or being under the influence of illegal drugs in Utah.

United States Constitutional Issues

Mr. Robinson argued that the Utah measureable amount provision violates United States Constitutional principles as explained by the United States Supreme Court in Robinson v. California. Robinson held that a California statute which made it a criminal offense to “be under the influence of, or be addicted to the use of narcotics” was unconstitutional because the “addicted to” portion of the law punished a “’status’ . . . for which the offender may be prosecuted at any time.” The US Supreme Court found that addiction is an illness, and to punish a person for that illness would be a cruel and unusual punishment which would violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Mr. Robinsons argued that having a measurable amount of a narcotic in one’s body is likewise a “status” which cannot constitutionally be punished. The Utah Supreme Court disagreed and held that the Utah measurable amount provision punishes the act of voluntarily using a controlled substance rather than punishing a “status” which is beyond the defendant’s ability to control.

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