A recent trafficking in cocaine case near Jacksonville, Florida was reversed because the state could not prove that the defendant was in constructive possession of the cocaine. In any possession or trafficking case, the state has to prove the defendant knew about and possessed the illegal drugs beyond a reasonable doubt. Possession of drugs can be proven in two ways. Actual possession means what it sounds like- the defendant was holding the drugs or had them on his/her person. Constructive possession is more vague. Even where the defendant is not holding the drugs in some way, the state can still prove the defendant was possessing the drugs by proving constructive possession. Constructive possession deals with things we know are present and over which we have some control. For instance, if a person lives in an apartment by himself and the police find a bag of cocaine in his desk drawer along with his wallet and bills, the state has a pretty good constructive possession case. On the other hand, if the state cannot prove that the defendant knew the drugs were present and had some control over them, the state cannot prove constructive possession.
In the recent trafficking in cocaine case, a police officer stopped the defendant for a traffic violation. During the stop, the officer found a bag with over 100 grams of cocaine under the driver’s seat. The vehicle did not belong to the defendant, no fingerprints were found on the bag, the police officer never saw the defendant touch the bag and the defendant did not make any statements admitting the cocaine was his or he knew it was there. There was no evidence connecting the defendant to the bag of cocaine other than the fact that it was under the seat of a car he was driving. Because the state did not present any evidence that the defendant knew the bag of cocaine was there or had placed it there, the trafficking in cocaine conviction was reversed.
This is a fairly common scenario in possession of, and trafficking in, illegal drugs cases. Had the bag been sitting on the passenger seat with the defendant being the only one in the car, the state’s case would have been much better. The defendant in this case did not make any statements to the police about the cocaine. The number one way the police obtain the evidence they need to prove a constructive possession case is by obtaining statements about the drugs from the suspect. Had this defendant made any statements indicating he knew the cocaine was in the vehicle, the state’s trafficking in cocaine case would have become much stronger.