In a recent drug trafficking case near Jacksonville, Florida, a police officer stopped the defendant as he was driving by himself in a rental car. The police officer ultimately searched the rental car and found a trafficking amount of cocaine in a closed compartment in the vehicle. The rental car had been rented by the defendant’s wife in her name.
The defendant was charged with trafficking in cocaine and went to trial. In order for the state to prove a trafficking in cocaine case of this nature, the state would have to prove that the defendant was in constructive possession of the cocaine in the closed compartment of the rental car rented by his wife. This means the state would have to show that the defendant knew the cocaine was in the vehicle, and that he had some control over the cocaine. The defendant argued that he was just borrowing the car from his wife and had no idea the cocaine was in the vehicle. At the trial, the police officer was allowed to testify that, based upon his training and experience, the fact that a third party, the defendant’s wife, rented the vehicle was evidence that the defendant knew the cocaine was in the vehicle. This testimony was enough for the appellate court to reverse the defendant’s conviction for cocaine trafficking.
The state is generally not allowed to introduce evidence to the jury about what other criminal offenders typically do in an effort to prove the defendant in a specific criminal case did the same thing. The idea is that each defendant in a criminal case is supposed to be judged based on the specific facts of his/her case, not what other people might have done in the past. This would seem to be particularly true in this case where it is a stretch to say that a person driving a rental car rented by his wife is some indication that he is a cocaine trafficker.