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Proving Defendant Knew the Drugs Were There is Not Enough for a Drug Possession Conviction in Florida

In a recent case outside of Jacksonville, Florida, the police were looking for someone who had a warrant for his arrest. They tracked him down to a house which had a secondary building in the back yard that was also used as a residence. The police found the suspect in the secondary residence. When they came in to arrest him, they found cocaine and marijuana in plain view in the residence. They charged the suspect with trafficking in cocaine and possession of marijuana.

The criminal defense lawyer on the case ultimately got the case thrown out. The main problem with the state’s case was they had no proof that the defendant owned or lived in the secondary residence. In order for the state to prove trafficking in illegal drugs or possession of illegal drugs, the state has to prove that the defendant was in possession of the drugs. Normally, this means the person actually had the drugs in his/her possession. However, actual possession of drugs is not required for a drug possession conviction. Constructive possession of drugs can also result in a conviction in Florida. To prove constructive possession, the state has to prove that the defendant knew the drugs were present AND had some sort of control over the drugs. So, just because the drugs were out in the open in the same room and the defendant knew they were there is not enough to convict him for trafficking or drug possession. The state must prove more- for instance that he put them there or they were his drugs. Being in close proximity to illegal drugs is not enough. If the defendant had said they were his drugs, that would be sufficient for a conviction. Or, at a minimum, if the state could prove that the defendant lived at that residence by himself, that could be circumstantial evidence that the drugs were his.

The police often arrest anyone who is found near illegal drugs, whether in a residence, a vehicle or on the street. However, without a statement from someone admitting to ownership of the drugs, being near drugs is not sufficient for a drug conviction in Florida.