Evidence of Drug Possession Needed to Terminate Section 8 Benefits
Facts: Police officers searched a resident's daughter and found an envelope containing white powder in her pocketbook. At the time of the search, the daughter told the officers that it was not hers and that she didn't know what it was. She was then told by an officer at the scene that it was cocaine, and, in response, she told the officers that she didn't use drugs.
She was charged with possession of cocaine, but she didn't tell her mother about the arrest. A few months later, the PHA notified the mother that her Section 8 benefits would be terminated due to her daughter's arrest.
At the resident's request, a hearing was held and the hearing officer asked the daughter whether she would pass a drug test if one was given on that day. The daughter answered “yes,” and the resident's attorney said that he intended to seek dismissal of the criminal charge against the daughter at the next court appearance. The hearing officer issued a written decision denying the resident's request that he overturn the PHA's decision to terminate benefits.
Later, the daughter pled guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine. The resident claimed that no judgment regarding possession of any controlled substance was made and that, under New York penal law, disorderly conduct is a violation and not a crime. The resident asked the court to require the PHA to reinstate her Section 8 benefits.
Ruling: A New York district court granted the resident's request.
Reasoning: At the time the case was heard, the daughter's charges remained pending, so the charges weren't evidence that she possessed cocaine. The daughter's testimony at the PHA's hearing only shows that an individual, presumed to be an unidentified police officer, told her moments before her arrest that a substance found in her purse was cocaine. There were no field tests or lab tests of the substance. Finally, the daughter never admitted to possessing cocaine, even in connection with her subsequent guilty plea to a charge of disorderly conduct.
- Rivera v. Town of Huntington Housing Authority, May 2012