MASSENA - A Lisbon couple was sent back to the St. Lawrence County Correctional Facility following an hour-long preliminary hearing Wednesday morning in Massena Village Court.
Village police charged Brandon R. Graves, 21, and Danielle S. Jensen, 17, both of 224 Harper Road, Lisbon, each with two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and one count of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance on Aug. 29. Graves was additionally ticketed for operation of a vehicle with no plate lamp.
Police said during the 11:26 p.m. Aug. 29 traffic stop two loaded revolvers - a silver barrel, wooden handle Smith and Wesson .38 special and a black RG Industries .22 caliber - were found in the 2012 Ford Fusion being operated by Graves, with the serial number being obliterated on one of the revolvers.
They said they located a Suboxone strip in Gravess wallet, and Jensen possessed a cotton filter in her purse that tested positive for heroin. She was additionally charged with criminal possession of a hypodermic needle.
Ptl. Jayden R. Pernice said he had initiated a traffic stop on the vehicle Graves was driving on Willow Street after he initially observed it did not have a rear plate lamp. He said the stop was made on Woodlawn Avenue, approximately 150 yards from where he had first noticed the equipment violation. He said when he and fellow Ptl. Tyler Condlin approached the vehicle they saw two occupants in the vehicle with Graves in the drivers seat.
He said he observed a metal spoon on the back seat, a piece of silverware that he said is often used for cooking heroin. He said he then asked and was granted permission by Graves to search the vehicle.
Under questioning from defense attorney Mary Rain, Ptl. Pernice said he does not carry any consent forms in his vehicle that Graves could have signed to grant police permission to search the vehicle. He also said he had not recorded the conversation where Graves granted him permission to search the vehicle. He also acknowledged he was aware the vehicle had been at a residence suspected of being tied to the drug trade.
The village patrolman, under cross-examination from Ms. Rain, said he had not found any burn marks on the spoon and that it wasnt bent in any way.
Ptl. Pernice said police located a glass bong smoking device immediately behind the drivers seat. Neither person took responsibility for that, he said.
He said Jensens purse was open on the passenger side of the front seat. He said police located a loose .22 round and a case of .22 calibre rounds in her purse.
I popped open the trunk and found two loaded handguns wrapped in tee-shirts wrapped in an air mattress. They were both loaded, and the serial number on the Smith & Wesson .38 was scraped off, he said, noting the ammunition found in Jensens purse could be used for the .22 handgun.
He said he had tested both revolvers Tuesday, and both weapons fired properly.
The village patrolman said he had also interviewed Jensen at the Massena police station after she had been taken into custody.
In a statement she signed for police, Jensen said she and Graves, her boyfriend, had come to Massena to meet with Gerry Dissotelle Jr. and other people inside an apartment near the Rusty Wheel on Willow Street.
Gerry asked Brandon for the keys to the car and when we went to leave. Brandon gave Gerry the keys to our car and Gerry placed his air mattress and some shirts in the trunk of the car. I asked Gerry what it was and Gerry would not tell me, she said.
Jensen said that, after they were pulled over on Woodlawn Avenue for no plate lamp, Graves consented to a search of the vehicle and police found a marijuana water pipe and guns, along with bullets in her purse.
When I was placed in the back of the police car, I removed a needle from my pants and placed it down in the floor, she wrote in her statement.
Ptl. Pernice, responding to a question from Ms. Rain, said he had asked Jensen about the ammunition found in her purse and she told him it wasnt hers and didnt have an answer when asked how it ended up in her purse.
The defense attorney asked the village patrolman if either Graves or Jensen had a pistol permit for the two weapons located in the trunk. Ptl. Pernice said he had not asked, pointing out it was clearly illegal to possess a handgun with a defaced serial number.
In her closing argument, Ms. Rain argued prosecutors had failed to meet their statutory obligations for the case to be handed up to superior court since they had failed to provide any evidence that Jensen or Graves did not have a pistol permit to carry the two revolvers.
Do they have a legal right to carry those weapons? Without that evidence, the People have failed to meet the element of criminal possession of a weapon, Ms. Rain said. It has to be unlawfully possessed.
Ms. Rain pointed out she has a pistol permit. I should be given the opportunity to show the police my permit. You cant just arrest me without finding out if it is unlawful for me to possess the weapon, she argued.
St. Lawrence County Assistant Public Defender Alison B. Appleby, in her closing argument, said the testimony presented at the hearing failed to meet the standard necessary to find Graves had committed a felony offense. She argued her client had given consent for a search of the passenger component of the vehicle, not the trunk. She also said there was no testimony that Graves owned the vehicle or that it was registered to him.
St. Lawrence County Assistant District Attorney Andrew T. Botts countered prosecutors are required to meet the reasonable cause standards based on the penal law, something he said had been done at the hearing, not on a defense attorneys take on the law.
He also pointed out there is a presumption in the law that weapons found in an automobile are possessed by everyone in the vehicle.
Massena Village Justice Eric J. Gustafson reviewed his legal books for several minutes before ruling there was reasonable cause, based on the testimony presented at the hearing, that a felony had been committed by Graves and Jensen.
Prior to issuing his ruling, he had told the prosecutor he was interested by the pistol permit question raised by Ms. Rain. Whats troubling me ... is the concern raised whether these individuals are licensed to carry, he said.
Mr. Botts said the statute simply reads it is illegal to possess a loaded firearm not in a home or place of business.
I cant hunt with a pistol? Mr. Gustafson asked rhetorically. Is that what you are telling me?
No, the assistant district attorney responded. But my burden is to meet the law. The elements have been met.
The village justice, in his ruling, said his reading of the law placed the burden of showing a permit proving legal ownership of the weapons on the vehicles occupants, not the police.
Mr. Gustafson sent Graves back to the county jail with his bail continued at $20,000 cash or $40,000 bond and Jensen also went back to the county correctional facility with bail continued at $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond.
Both defense attorneys had asked to have their clients released under the supervision of the probation department, while Mr. Botts had argued for their bail to be continued.
The assistant district attorney said Graves now has two violent felony offenses pending in the court system. Graves had been picked up on a warrant for second-degree burglary in July following a traffic stop in the village.
Police also charged him with possession of a hypodermic needle. The felony burglary count alleges that he entered Jacob J. Mitchells residence, 41 Belmont St., on Sept. 4, 2012, and got into a fight with him and tried to steal Mr. Mitchells personal property.
In a statement he signed for police, Mr. Mitchell said Graves walked through his front door and while in his house asked him if wanted to buy some drugs from him. Mr. Mitchell said he told him no numerous times, Graves got angry, and a fight ensued.
On his way out, Mr. Mitchell told police, Graves attempted to steal an XBox video game system and a cell phone.
Mr. Botts acknowledged Jensen didnt have much of a criminal history, but he pointed out bullets found in her purse were directly tied to one of the two loaded weapons found in the trunk. Given her ties to the drug community, she is a flight risk, he suggested.