People v Edwards, 2005 NY Slip Op 08571, 2005 WL 3022096
Under Penal Law section 220.25, "the presence of a controlled substance 'in open view in a room, other than a public place,' is presumptive evidence of knowing possession thereof by any person in 'close proximity to such controlled substance at the time such controlled substance was found.'" (People v Edwards, 2005 NY Slip Op 08571, 2005 WL 3022096 [available here].) Essentially, if there are many people in an apartment, and there is a big pile of cocaine on the table in plain view, and the cops bust in, everyone in the room is presumed to have possessed the cocaine. The question confronted in Edwards deals with the scope of the "drugs in a room" presumption; the facts are briefly stated in the Court's opinion:
Here, the police executed a search warrant in an upstairs apartment where defendant was found. After using a battering ram to access the locked door from the porch to the stairway leading to the apartment, the police observed a baggie containing a white rock-like substance on the first step of the stairway. [...] The police entered the apartment through an open door at the top of the stairway and found defendant and three children in the rear of the apartment.
On those facts, the Fourth Department (reasonably enough) found the "drugs in a room" presumption inapplicable: "on these facts, the controlled substance was not 'in open view in a room' and that, in any event, defendant not in 'close proximity to such controlled substance at the time such controlled substance was found.'" (Id.) The Court went further, and found the error in charging the jury on the "drugs in a room" presumption could not be harmless because "there is no way to discern whether the jury's verdict 'was predicated on the illegally charged presumption or on a finding of constructive possession irrespective of the presumption.'" (Id.)
It warms my heart when an appeals court gets it right on facts like this; not unlike the recent Court of Appeals case in People v Gomez that held a suspect's consent to search his car did not imply consent to destroy the car with a crowbar (post here), the result in Edwards comports with logic and common sense, so much so that one wonders how the trial court got it wrong in the first place.