Appeals court reverses Homer pot conviction

HOMER — The Court of Appeals has reversed a conviction for marijuana possession against a homeless Homer man.

In a decision released Sept. 14, the court also rejected the claim of Michael L. Murphy, that his backpack should fall under the same privacy provisions of a home as laid out in the Ravin v. Alaska decision.

In 2010, Homer Police contacted Murphy and said they smelled marijuana in his backpack. He was charged with sixth-degree misconduct involving a controlled substance. In a bench trial, Homer District Court Judge Margaret Murphy found Murphy guilty. Murphy appealed his conviction.

In a decision written by Judge David Mannheimer, the appellate court found that Michael Murphy was entitled to a trial by jury and that the district court should have addressed him personally to ascertain that he knowingly waived his right to a jury trial. The state conceded that his trial was illegal and the court reversed the conviction.

Michael Murphy also claimed that because he was homeless his personal belongings had the same privacy protection as a home. Ravin v. Alaska found that Alaska’s constitutional right to privacy allowed possession of pot in a home. The appellate court said that Murphy claimed a broader privacy protection for homeless people than people with homes. The appellate court found that Ravin focused “on the unique constitutional status of the home in the sense of a structure,” Mannheimer wrote. It rejected the privacy claim.

Ballot Measure 2 in 2014 legalized possession of marijuana by adults and now allows possession beyond homes.

• Michael Armstrong is a reporter for the Homer News.

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