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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Cocaine & Self-Defense

Craig D. Sallie was charged with aggravated assault and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon after a fight with Gregory Johnson. According to the Court of Appeals of Mississippi in Sallie v. State, 2013 WL 6233904 (Miss.App. 2013),

Johnson admitted that he drank whiskey and smoked marijuana on the day of the incident before the shooting occurred. He denied using cocaine that day, but admitted that he had used cocaine in the past. When defense counsel asked Johnson if the blood test performed at the hospital on the day of the shooting indicated that cocaine was in his system, Johnson replied, “I don't know nothing about that, sir.” The State objected to the line of questioning regarding Johnson's alleged cocaine use on the day of the incident, arguing that it was irrelevant to Sallie's guilt or innocence; and even if it were relevant, its probative value was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. The circuit court sustained the objection because defense counsel had no evidence that Johnson had used cocaine on the day of the incident.

Really?

Yes, according to the Court of Appeals:

As stated, Johnson testified that he had only smoked marijuana and drank alcohol on the day of the incident. He further testified that he had used cocaine on some day before the incident. When the court asked defense counsel if he could prove that Johnson had used cocaine on the day of the incident, defense counsel answered that all he had was the blood test results indicating that cocaine was in Johnson's system on the day of the incident

But was that actually true? This of course begs the question of how long cocaine remains in a person's blood. Here are a couple of citations:

1. State v. Jones, 895 P.2d 643 (Nev. 1995): "At hearings regarding the warrantless seizure of the respondents' blood, the state presented evidence that cocaine may be reduced by half in an individual's blood system within forty-five minutes, and that on the average, cocaine dissipates in the bloodstream within four hours." 

2. BD Bhana & JM Visser, Medico-Legal Investigation of Suspected Fatal Poisonings in Pretoria: 2000-2001, 23 Med. & L. 859 (2004): "It is unlikely that cocaine will be detectable in blood except perhaps in very trace amounts, for longer than 6 hours."

So, what time of the day was the fight in Sallie? Well, it came after Johnson smoked marijuana and drank alcohol...and after he was taken to the hospital to have his blood drawn. I suppose that this could have happened in the early morning hours on the day in question, but the court talks about "the day of the incident." This makes me think that the fight took place in the afternoon although the court doesn't specify a time. And, if that's the case, it seems a virtual certainty that Johnson ingested the cocaine on the day of the incident. Now, I suppose it's true that defense counsel didn't make this argument...but still. Wasn't it up to the prosecution or the court to prove that the cocaine in Johnson's blood wasn't ingested on the day in question?

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2013/12/craig-d-sallie-was-charged-with-aggravated-assault-and-possession-of-a-firearm-by-a-convicted-felon-after-a-fight-with-grego.html

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