April 23, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Possession of Controlled Substance at Direction of Legal Owner Not Affirmative Defense

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Martinez on Thursday, May 18, 2017.

Unlawful Possession—Prescription—Affirmative Defense—Prosecutorial Misconduct.

Defendant was charged with simple possession after the police found Percocet and Vicodin in her purse for which she did not have a prescription. At trial, defendant’s neighbor testified that she had prescriptions for both medications and that she had asked defendant to hold her prescriptions while they were out that evening because her purse was too small and she did not wish to leave the medications at home. A jury convicted defendant of possession and the trial court sentenced her to probation.

On appeal, defendant contended that she could lawfully possess the medications if she was “acting at the direction of the legal owner of the controlled substance,” and the trial court erred by failing to give the jury an affirmative defense instruction. The language defendant relies on in C.R.S. § 18-18-413 may present a defense to the crime of unauthorized possession of a prescribed controlled substance. However, C.R.S. § 18-18-413 is a separate offense, and it does not present an affirmative defense to unlawful possession under C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5, under which defendant was charged. Further, the trial court did not err in failing to tie the instruction to the elemental instructions given to the jury because the error would have to have been plain and obvious, which it was not. Thus, the trial court did not commit plain error by declining to adopt this construction sua sponte.

Defendant further contended that the trial court plainly erred by not giving an affirmative defense instruction based on the prescription exception in C.R.S. § 18-18-302(3)(c), which allows lawful possession by “[a]n ultimate user or a person in possession” of the medication “pursuant to a lawful order of a practitioner.” C.R.S. § 18-18-302(3)(c) is an affirmative defense to unlawful possession of a controlled substance. However, this affirmative defense did not apply to the charges against defendant because she did not have a valid prescription from a practitioner. Further, even assuming that the court erred in sua sponte failing to give this affirmative defense, such error would not be reversible error because it was not obvious and substantial.

Finally, defendant argued that the prosecutor committed reversible error by arguing that C.R.S. § 18-18-413 was not an affirmative defense to C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5 and by misstating the evidence in closing arguments. Because C.R.S. § 18-18-413 is not an affirmative defense to C.R.S. § 18-18-403.5, and the prosecutor’s statements were reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence presented at trial, the prosecutor’s arguments both during voir dire and closing argument were proper.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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