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Is Engen good law anymore?

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by: Ryan Scott • June 23, 2017 • no comments

In State v. Engen, the Court of Appeals held that while a defendant must knowingly possess a controlled substance, he didn't need to know the exact nature of the controlled substance.  That is, a defendant charged with possession of cocaine couldn't get an acquittal by arguing he thought it was meth.

But back then, a defendant wouldn't have been charged with specifically possessing cocaine.  He was charged with possessing a schedule II controlled substance.  The statute didn't distinguish between cocaine and methamphetamine. Now, a defendant is usually charged with expressly possessing cocaine in most cases, though a separate general statute based on drug categories still exists.

The earlier failure to distinguish different controlled substances was part of the analysis in Engen:

Given the historical context of the 1977 legislation—the lack of differentiation among types of controlled substances and the historic lack of an explicit mental state requirement pertaining to the specific type of controlled substance possessed—it seems unlikely that the 1977 legislature intended to impose such a requirement.

As I mentioned, at least some of the drug statutes make those distinction now.  Let's assume the charge is possession of cocaine.  The mental state is knowingly.  The conduct -- using a Simonov analysis -- is possession of cocaine.  I don't think a person can be guilty under that statute of possessing cocaine if they thought they possessed methamphetamine.