Dykstra’s Dispute With Uber Driver Heads To Court
Troubled former Met Lenny Dykstra is back in trouble again. Union County authorities recently filed charges against the erstwhile outfielder stemming from his bizarre dispute with an Uber driver in May 2018.
Appearing in criminal court with his attorney, Mr. Dykstra pleaded not guilty to one count of making a terroristic threat and two counts of possessing a controlled substance. According to court documents, Mr. Dykstra got into an argument with an Uber driver when the driver refused to change the trip destination. The driver states that Mr. Dykstra held a gun to the back of his head. So, the driver unilaterally changed the destination to the Linden Police Department’s headquarters. During their investigation, officers found drugs in a bag but did not find a weapon. Mr. Dykstra denied making threats and insisted that the Uber driver attempted to kidnap him.
“When you’re innocent, it’s easy,” Mr. Dykstra remarked as he left the courthouse. “The truth will all come out.”
Defenses in Drug Possession Cases
Automobile-based drug possession cases are difficult to prove in court. Prosecutors usually have no problem establishing proximity. But under New York law, “proximity” and “possession” are not synonymous. In fact, a defendant could literally be sitting on drugs, weapons, or other contraband, and not be guilty of possession. In addition to proximity, state prosecutors must also establish:
- Knowledge: Prosecutors must establish every element listed in the charging instrument. These documents always name a specific substance as opposed to a generic term like “controlled substance.” In this case, prosecutors must establish that Mr. Dykstra knew the bag contained both methamphetamines and cocaine.
- Control: This issue occurs quite frequently with regard to locked glove compartments. If the defendant did not have the key, the defendant had no control over the items in the glovebox. Arguably, the same thing applies to a back seat passenger if drugs were in the front seat.
Unfortunately, it appears that neither of these defenses applies to Mr. Dykstra in this situation. In the alternative, Nails could always try the “someone must have left it there” defense. Since the Uber driver was a common carrier, that defense might have some credibility. But unless he produces a corroborating witness, the “someone must have left it there” defense will probably not create reasonable doubt.
On a related note, there may be a variance between the pleadings and the proof. If the charging documents state that the defendant had two ounces of marijuana and the evidence shows that the defendant had 1.9 ounces, the defendant is not guilty of the charged offense.
New York judges often allow prosecutors to make trial amendments if they catch the variance problem early enough. However, in other cases, the judge may make the state start over.
Terroristic Threat Cases in New York
In Empire State terroristic threat cases, it’s irrelevant whether the defendant had a weapon or not. New York Penal Law Section 490.20 clearly states that “It shall be no defense to a prosecution pursuant to this section that the defendant did not have the intent or capability of committing the specified offense.” Instead, the state need only prove that the defendant’s act caused “a reasonable expectation or fear of the imminent commission of such offense.”
So, the statute is not entirely subjective. The alleged victim must have a reasonable apprehension. In other words, if you were that Uber driver and Mr. Dykstra made a threat, would you have believed him?
Furthermore, prosecutors must establish the threat beyond a reasonable doubt. Generally, in criminal cases, a swearing match is insufficient.