Proximity Doesn’t Equal Control, Florida Appeals Court Says in Drug Conviction Reversal

duffle bagWhen you are accused of a crime, it is important to remember that the state has several obligations in order to secure a conviction. The prosecution, for example, must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of one man accused of dealing meth, the state’s case had one major problem. It lacked sufficient proof that the defendant had actual or constructive possession of the meth in question, so the man’s conviction had to be reversed by the Second District Court of Appeal.

The case began with police surveillance of a residence where they suspected drug activity was occurring. After seeing a man and a woman exit the house and get into a van, the police followed the van and, after a failure to stop at a stop sign, initiated a traffic stop. The detective making the stop identified one passenger as acting suspiciously. The detective asked the driver for permission to search the van. The driver consented, and the detective ordered all of the passengers out of the van. The search yielded methamphetamine in one of two bags near where a male passenger had been seated in the second row.

The police arrested the man, and the state charged him with trafficking in methamphetamine. At the end of his trial, the man asked the trial judge to enter an acquittal. The man argued that the state’s evidence only put him near the drugs in question and never established that he had actual or constructive possession of the bags that contained the illegal substances. The trial court refused, and the man was convicted. The trial judge determined that, based upon the defendant’s nervous behavior at the time of the stop, along with the bags’ proximity to his seat, the state had an adequate case of actual possession.

The Second District reversed that conviction on appeal. Florida law acknowledges three ways for a person to have actual possession. One is if the contraband is “in the defendant’s hand or on his person,” a second is if it is “in a container in the defendant’s hand or on his person,” and the third is if the contraband is “within the defendant’s ‘ready reach’ and the contraband is under his control.”

The key to any of these actual possession scenarios, as well as to establishing constructive possession, is showing that the defendant had control of the contraband. And, as Florida courts have repeatedly held, “the requisite control is not established by an accused’s mere proximity to the contraband.” In this case, the state’s case was based upon the defendant’s “unusual” behavior and his proximity to the meth. In numerous similar cases in the past, the appeals court ruled that such evidence, without something more, wasn’t enough to sustain a conviction.

In your criminal case, you need an aggressive and knowledgeable advocate in your corner. The skillful Tampa Bay drug trafficking attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. have been helping the accused defend their rights for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case with you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your free initial consultation and get the answers and assistance you need.

More blog posts:

Florida Detective Didn’t Have Grounds for Doing a Protective Sweep, Making Warrantless Search Illegal, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Feb. 1, 2017

When Even a Small Flaw in the State’s Case Can Overturn a Conviction in Florida, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Nov. 23, 2016

Photo credit: rakuten.com

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