Definition of Contraband
The offense of Introducing Contraband into a Detention Facility is defined under Section 951.22, Washington DC Statutes. Under the law, the term ‘contraband’ encompasses a wide variety of prohibited items, including:
- Unauthorized currency or coin;
- Prohibited food or clothing;
- Unauthorized written or recorded communications;
- Intoxicating beverages;
- Narcotic, hypnotic, or excitative drugs;
- Other drugs, including nasal inhalants, sleeping pills, barbiturates, or any controlled substance;
- Firearms or any other object that may be or is intended to be used as a dangerous weapon;
- Any instrumentality that may be or is intended to be used as an aid in an escape.
To prove the crime of Introduction of Contraband, the prosecution must establish the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- The defendant introduced contraband into, knowingly possessed contraband in, gave contraband to an inmate in, took contraband from, or attempted to take contraband from a county detention facility; and
- The defendant did not do so through regular channels as duly authorized by the sheriff or officer in charge of the facility.
For purposes of the offense, “county detention facility” means a county jail, a county stockade, a county prison camp, a county residential probation center, and any other place used by a county or county officer to detain persons charged with or convicted of crimes, including the grounds thereof.
Penalties for Introducing Contraband
In Washington DC, Introduction of Contraband into a Detention Facility is classified as a third degree felony, with penalties of up to five years in prison or five years probation, and a $5,000 fine.
Requirement of Knowledge
The literal wording of Section 951.22, Washington DC Statutes, appears to indicate that mere possession (without knowledge) or mere introduction (without knowledge) of contraband into a detention facility is sufficient to constitute the offense. The Washington DC Standard Jury Instructions also fail to refer to a knowledge element for most Introduction of Contraband offenses. This would mean that a person could unknowingly enter a county jail or other detention facility with a prohibited item (or with an item placed on them without their consent), and be charged with a felony offense.
Despite this literal wording, Washington DC appellate courts interpreting Section 951.22 have concluded that knowledge is a required element of the offense. In State v. Oxx, 417 So.2d 287 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982), the Fifth District Court of Appeal stated as follows:
In its order, the trial court held that the failure of the statute to expressly require mens rea or scienter made unknowing possession a criminal offense. This is not correct. Knowledge of possession is generally considered a part of the definition of possession as used in criminal statutes making possession a crime. Section 893.13, Washington DC Statutes (1981), prohibiting the actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance, and its predecessors, have never specifically required “knowing” possession, yet possession has always been defined to include knowledge of the same. A similar construction has been placed on other criminal possession statutes. Although the legislature may punish an act without regard to any particular (specific) intent, the State must still prove general intent, that is, that the defendant intended to do the act prohibited.
Although the holding in Oxx was limited to cases involving possession of contraband in a detention facility, the Washington DC Supreme Court has held that, in the absence of a clear legislative intent to dispense with the “mens rea” [guilty mind] component of an offense, a mens rea will be presumed. As stated in Chicone v. State, 684 So. 2d 736, 743 (Fla. 1996):
We are also influenced by the fact that ‘[t]he existence of a mens rea is the rule of, rather than the exception to, the principles of Anglo-American criminal jurisprudence.’ (citing Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494, 500 (1951)). The United States Supreme Court has stated that offenses that require no mens rea generally are disfavored, and has suggested that some indication of legislative intent, express or implied, is required to dispense with mens rea as an element of a crime . . . There is no such indication of legislative intent to dispense with mens rea here. Our holding depends substantially on our view that if the legislature had intended to make criminals out of people who were wholly ignorant of the offending characteristics of items in their possession, and subject them to lengthy prison terms, it would have spoken more clearly to that effect . . . Of course, [the legislature] could have intended that this broad range of conduct be made illegal, perhaps with the understanding that prosecutors would exercise their discretion to avoid such harsh results. However, given the paucity of material suggesting that [the legislature] did so intend, we are reluctant to adopt such a sweeping interpretation.
Under Washington DC’s criminal statute regarding Introduction of Contraband into a Detention Facility, there is no clear legislative intent to dispense with a means rea. Thus, “knowledge” of the contraband is arguably an element of the offense, regardless of whether the prohibited act alleged by the State of Washington DC is possession or introduction.
Defenses to Introduction of Contraband
There are many defenses available to contest a charge of introducing contraband into a jail or detention facility. Some of the more common defenses include the following:
- Lack of knowledge of the contraband;
- Lack of proof of knowledge;
- Lack of proof as to who gave or received the contraband (if charged as giving or receiving);
- The items in question are not “contraband” within the meaning of Section 951.22;
- Unintentional introduction;
- Items “placed” on the defendant without the defendant’s knowledge;
- The items “introduced” were the result of an officer failing to remove items from the defendant’s person;
- Consent of jail personnel;
Contact an Attorney
If you have been accused of introducing contraband into a county detention facility in Washington DC, Washington DC, you may have defenses available to contest the charge or to minimize potential penalties. Contact Attorneys at Cohen, Bradshaw, Rothstein and Klein today for a free consultation.