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A Conviction for Trafficking in Methamphetamine

A Conviction for Trafficking in Methamphetamine, Commonly Known as Meth Was Reversed Even Though a Large Quantity of Meth Was Found in the Defendant's Car.

A conviction for trafficking in methamphetamine, commonly known as meth was reversed even though a large quantity of meth was found in the defendant's car.

In the case of Byers v. State, 34 Fla. L. Weekly D1707c (Fla. 2d DCA August 21, 2009). The court of appeals reversed the conviction of the defendant for trafficking in meth.

The defendant was approached by police officers outside of a hotel room and arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. Inside the hotel room another person was observed smoking a bong and was also placed under arrest. The police then searched the hotel room and found a set of car keys on the dresser. The defendant admitted that the car keys belonged to him and consented to a search of the vehicle.

The defendant lied to the police officers by saying that the keys belonged to a white truck. The police soon learned that the keys belonged to a Chevy Malibu and searched the Malibu. The search yielded a black bag on the passenger side floorboard containing 52.7 grams of meth. This was enough to charge the defendant with trafficking in meth which carries a maximum punishment of 30 years with a 3 year minimum for possession of 10 grams or more but less than 200 grams, and a $50,000.00 fine.

When questioned by police Mr. Byers admitted that he knew that the large amount of meth was in the car but stated it belonged to the other individual and that other person intended to sell it. The defendant contended that all he did was bring that other person to the motel in exchange for a small amount of the drug.

Florida recognizes two types of possession that can lead to a conviction for possessing and/or trafficking in controlled substances such as meth.

The first is actual possession which is proved when the accused has knowing physical possession of a controlled substance.

The second type of possession is constructive possession and exists when the defendant knows of the presence of the contraband and has the ability to maintain control over it or reduce it to his possession even though he does not have it in his physical possession. See Gartrell v. State, 626 So. 2d 1364, 1366 (Fla. 1993) andState v. Snyder, 635 So. 2d 1057, 1058 (Fla. 2d DCA 1994).

The court in Byers noted that when the defendant has exclusive possession of the premises where the contraband is found, knowledge and control can be inferred.

When the premises is not in the exclusive possession of the defendant, knowledge and control cannot be inferred unless there is incriminating statements or other evidence that would support such an inference.

In Wagner v. State, 950 So. 2d 511, 513 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007) the court held that "When...contraband is found in a location that was accessible to more than one person, a defendant's knowledge of its presence and ability to exercise dominion and control will not be inferred; these elements must be established by independent proof."

In this case, the defendant admitted that he knew about the meth, thus meeting the first requirement set forth in Wagner. The question was whether Byers had dominion and control over the bag containing the meth.

The court noted that a judgment of acquittal is proper when the state does not produce evidence from which the dominion and control can be inferred. It also cited to the Florida Supreme Court case of State v. Law, 559 So. 2d 187, 188 (Fla. 1989) for the proposition that "[w]here the only proof of intent is circumstantial, no matter how strongly the evidence may suggest guilt, a conviction cannot be sustained unless the evidence is inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of innocence."

The court then reversed Byers' conviction for trafficking in meth because it held that even if the evidence permitted an inference that the defendant had control over the meth, it did not exclude Byers' reasonable hypothesis of innocence that the drugs in the backpack belonged exclusively to the other person.

Many drug cases involve finding illegal drugs in a house or car in which not only the defendant, but other individuals, are located. In these types of cases, the state must be able to prove something other than the mere existence of the drugs within a car or house or trailer, or even in an open area where other individuals are present with the defendant or had access to the area. The interesting point of this case is that even though the defendant admitted that he knew of the existence of the drugs in the bag, that did not meet the tests for possession because it did not meet the second part of the constructive possession requirement.

Many people find themselves arrested because they are in close proximity to a quantity of drugs. An arrest under those facts should not result in a conviction if there are other individuals in the area that also have the ability to possess and maintain control of the drug.