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State v. Obin

Supreme Court of New Hampshire

October 21, 2014

State of New Hampshire
v.
Robert L. Obin,

The defendant, Robert L. Obin, appeals his convictions on one count of possession of oxycodone and one count of possession of methadone. See RSA 318-B:2, I (2011). He argues that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a directed verdict because, he asserts, he had lawful prescriptions for the drugs. We affirm.

RSA 318-B:2, I, generally prohibits the possession of controlled drugs. However, persons possessing prescription drugs dispensed to them pursuant to a lawful prescription are exempt from this prohibition. See RSA 318-B:15, II (2011). The "lawful prescription" exemption is an affirmative defense, which the defendant has the burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence. See RSA 318-B:22 (2011); State v. Larose, 157 N.H. 28, 35 (2008). This standard "simply requires the trier of fact to believe that the existence of a fact is more probable than its nonexistence." State v. Addison, 165 N.H. 381, 590 (2013) (quotation omitted). When a defendant moves for a directed verdict based upon an affirmative defense, the question is whether the evidence compels a finding that the defendant has established the affirmative defense as a matter of law, State v. Jernigan, 133 N.H. 396, 399 (1990), a question which we review de novo, State v. Kay, 162 N.H. 237, 243 (2011). We will not reverse the trial court's decision when it reaches the correct result and valid alternative grounds exist to reach that result. State v. Berry, 148 N.H. 88, 91 (2002).

The State's first witness testified that she contacted the police to report "two suspicious cars" in the parking lot of her apartment complex. The police officer who responded to the call testified that when he approached the defendant's vehicle, he noticed that the defendant and his passenger "began to make furtive movements . . . reaching around the front passenger and driver seat area, around the seats and on the side of the seats." As the officer came closer to the vehicle, he observed that the defendant had a pill bottle in his hand, which he placed on the center console. After ordering the defendant to exit the vehicle, the officer observed that the defendant was "sweating profusely" and "acting nervous." He testified that the defendant "couldn't stand still when I was talking to him. He seemed very jumpy, just jittery." The officer examined the pill bottle and noted that, according to the label, it should have contained fifteen-milligram oxycodone pills that were green and inscribed with the number "4811" on one side and a "V" on the other side. However, when he opened the bottle, he observed that none of the pills in the bottle matched the description on the label. One set of pills was blue, round, and marked with the number "224" on one side and a score on the other side. The other set was green, round, and marked with the number "187" on one side and a score on the other side. A laboratory analysis confirmed that the pills marked with the number "224" were thirty-milligram oxycodone tablets, and the pills marked with the number "187" were fifteen-milligram oxycodone tablets.

The officer arrested the defendant and transported him to the police station, where he was booked and searched. The police found $789 in cash in his pockets. The next day, the police searched the defendant's vehicle and found a small plastic bag under the front passenger's seat containing ten white pills that were round, scored, and marked with the number "54/142." Laboratory analysis confirmed that these pills were ten-milligram methadone tablets. In the trunk, the police found a four-inch, plastic straw containing a white powdery substance which laboratory analysis confirmed to be oxycodone.

The officer testified that the day after the arrest, the defendant's wife arrived at the police station with three empty prescription bottles, and that the descriptions on the labels matched the pills that were found in the defendant's possession. The officer then reviewed the labels to determine when the prescriptions were filled, how many pills were dispensed, and how many pills would be remaining if the medication were used in the prescribed manner shown on the labels. The officer determined that there were 142 tablets missing from the thirty-milligram oxycodone prescription, 74 tablets missing from the fifteen-milligram oxycodone prescription, and 140 tablets missing from the methadone prescription.

The passenger who was in the defendant's vehicle at the time of the arrest testified that she was having an affair with the defendant, that he flew to Florida once a month to obtain the prescriptions, and that on each trip, the defendant obtained 180 fifteen-milligram tablets of oxycodone, 230 thirty-milligram tablets of oxycodone, and 180 tablets of methadone. She testified that the defendant paid for his trips to Florida with the money he made from selling the prescriptions.

At the close of the State's evidence, the defendant moved for a directed verdict, arguing that he "had lawfully prescribed prescriptions for the three medications" that were found in his possession. The State objected, arguing that while "[t]here was evidence that the Defendant may have had prescriptions for the drugs" found, "we don't know the source of the drugs, " and "we don't necessarily know if they came from the bottles themselves." The trial court denied the motion, stating:

The pills that were found in [the defendant's] motor vehicle did not match the prescription bottle that they were found within, and the empty prescription bottles that were brought in some hours or days later by his wife – at this point I don't have any connection relative to the pills that were found. That is, even though [the defendant] had a prescription apparently for various controlled substances, I don't have evidence that the pills found in the car came from those prescriptions.

The defendant argues that the trial court erred in concluding that the court "[did not] have evidence that the pills found in the car came from those prescriptions." We agree with the defendant that the evidence supported a reasonable inference that the drugs found in his possession came from the pill bottles provided by his wife. However, we do not agree that this evidence, considered in context, compels a finding that the defendant possessed the drugs pursuant to lawful prescriptions. See Jernigan, 133 N.H. at 399. To the contrary, the evidence recited above was more than sufficient to permit the jury to infer that he possessed the drugs for the purpose of sale or distribution and not for a legitimate medical condition.

Affirmed.

HICKS, LYNN, and BASSETT, JJ., ...


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