On June 11, 1999, police officers approached Paul Magnan while he was standing beside a truck in Santa Clara County, California. A woman was sitting in the driver's seat.
Police ascertained that he was under the influence of a controlled substance. They searched him, discovering a small balloon of heroin and $300 in cash.
Magnan's passenger admitted that she was under the influence of methamphetamine; and a white powder residue resembling methamphetamine was found in her purse along with a burnt piece of alum foil, a razor, and a mirror.
In a search of the truck, officers found a Camel cigarette pack containing a baggie with 21.69 grams of methamphetamine.
The police charged Magnan with possession of methamphetamine for sale; his passenger was released without any charges.
At trial, Magnan’s lawyer conceded that he drove without a license, that he was under the influence of an illegal substance, and that he was in possession of heroin – but denied the most serious charge: possession of the methamphetamine for sale. The prosecution contended that the $300 found on Magnan must have been the proceeds of a drug sale, because he was a homeless man without funds. Magnan had told his lawyer that his mother wired him $400 the week before the arrest, but the attorney failed to investigate this claim or present it to the jury. Nor did the jury ever hear that the police had a report that the female passenger in Magnan’s truck was suspected of selling methamphetamine.
In 2000, Magnan was convicted on all counts, and – because of prior robbery convictions, he was sentenced under California’s three strikes law to a term of 25 years to life.
Nearly six years later, on January 5, 2006, after numerous appeals, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge granted Magnan’s state petition for habeas corpus. The judge ruled that the failure of Magnan’s trial lawyer to investigate and present evidence of the wire transfer from his mother deprived Mangan of a fair trial.
Shortly afterwards, the Santa Clara District Attorney decided not to pursue the possession for sale charge. Magnan was resentenced for the less serious charge of possession of heroin, and sentenced to 6 years in prison – which he had already served, so he was released.
- Stephanie Denzel