County Court of Ulster County v. Allen – (possession)
County Court of Ulster County v. Allen, 442 U.S. 140 (1979)
OYEZ Has the Oral Arguments for the case on their page.
Brief Summary: Defendants were found guilty of possessing loaded firearms, 2 in the cab of the car and a pound or 2 of Heroin in the trunk as well as a machine gun with 27 rounds in it in the trunk. Defendants argue that a statute allowing a presumption of possession was unconstitutionally applied and in violation of their due process rights because their argument is that the weapons were “on the person of the minor”.
Issue on Appeal:
“Relying on the presumption of possession created by a New York statute providing that the presence of a firearm in an automobile is presumptive evidence of its illegal possession by all persons then occupying the vehicle, except when, inter alia, the firearm is found “upon the person” of one of the occupants. The trial court also denied respondents’ motion to dismiss the charges on the alleged ground that such exception applied because the guns were found on Jane Doe’s person, the court concluding that the applicability of the exception was a question of fact for the jury.” (from Justia Syllabus verbatim)
The Appellants were appealing the lack of instruction to the Jury to make an exception to the Statutorily created presumption of possession of the weapons based on the weapons not being on their persons but being in the purse of the 16 year old female youthful offender.
The Appellants made an argument that the car belonged to one of their cousins and also that it was natural for people traveling from Philadelphia to New York to carry weapons for protection which also added weight to the interpretation that the weapons were theirs and in their possession and not on the person of the minor.
Issue: Whether the application of the New York State statute allowing a presumption of illegal possession was constitutional.
Holding: Affirmed. The State advanced a permissive presumption that is constitutional and did not deprive Defendants of due process. I believe that the statements about self-defense might be the key factors.
Dissent: There was no other evidence offered as to possession of the weapons by the appellants other than the interpretation of the Statutory Presumption and therefore it was not logically rigorous.
Concurrence: Justice Burger opined in concurrence with the holding that the conviction should stand because the guns were reachable by the individuals sitting in the back seat by the very fact that they were in an open purse in the front seat.