Possession to Use, or to Sell?

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by Setarah Jahid

On the afternoon of February 2, 2017, a preliminary hearing unfolded over the arrest of James Sewell at the Crest Motel on January 11, 2017.  The arrest was over an 0.4-ounce baggie of methamphetamine, uncovered at the room Sewell was occupying at the time, at the Crest Motel in West Sacramento.

The prosecuting attorney called the first witness, Jason Mahaffey, an officer with the West Sacramento Police Department. Mahaffey indicated that Sewell had outstanding warrants, which is why he was instructed by his partner, Officer Eric Angle, to locate Sewell at the Crest Motel.

Sewell was found in room #110, and was searched by Mahaffey. He possessed $413 in cash, and Sewell “spontaneously” explained that he acquired the money by working at his job, Labor Ready, an employment agency. At that point, Officer Angle arrived on the scene and made contact with the co-defendant, Dominique Evans. Upon searching her, he found a small digital scale. This led to searchable probation, and when the two officers entered the motel room, they found 0.4 grams of methamphetamine and another digital scale, in plain sight.

Mahaffey arrested Sewell, and, when being taken to the police station, Sewell admitted he had methamphetamine on his person – 19.1 grams, in a baggie concealed in his buttocks.

In cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso focused his argument over proving that possession of meth does not automatically correlate to being a drug dealer. Borruso asked Officer Mahaffey if he had followed up with the $413 being from Labor Ready, and his answer was no. Mahaffey also failed to ask Sewell if he was a meth user.

The second witness, Officer Angle, was called up. In direct examination, he was asked by the prosecution if it is common for dope dealers to set up shops in motel rooms. He answered yes.

In cross-examination, Angle was asked by the defense if there were any indicia that proved this was Sewell’s hotel room. Angle answered that there was men’s clothing hanging in the closet, but said that he did not include it in the police report.

Borruso also emphasized the scales that were found – in particular, he asked if there is any way to differentiate between a scale that a meth user has in possession compared to what a meth dealer may have in possession. Angle admitted that there was no way to differentiate. Borruso said, “Right, because a user would keep a scale to make sure it’s good dope, they’re not being ripped off.”

Angle also agreed that 19 grams is not a typical amount for a dealer to possess, meaning it fell in line with the trend of a user.

After arguments, the court decided that it was satisfied to move forward with the charges that accounted for possession of a controlled substance. The arraignment date is February 16, 2017, at 10 am.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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One thought on “Possession to Use, or to Sell?”

  1. Tia Will

    Burruso asked if officer Mahaffey followed up with the $413 being from Labor Ready, and his answer was no. Mahaffey also failed to ask if Sewell was a meth user.”

    Honest question. Does this constitute failure to explore possible exculpatory evidence?  Seems like a phone call to employer might be less expensive than pursuing charges based on potentially circumstantial evidence.

    Angle answered that there was men clothing hanging in the closet, but that he did not include it in the police report.” 

    Might the size of this clothing also be relevant if it clearly did not fit the accused ?

    Regardless of the guilt or innocence of the accused, this would appear to be an incomplete evaluation on the part of the officers which costs the taxpayers more than is necessary in investigation and court time.

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