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Trafficking In Cocaine/Proof of Possession

The case of Watson v. State, 50 So. 3d. 685 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) involved a conviction for trafficking in cocaine.

Evidence at trial showed that the defendant was stopped by the police for driving erratically. The police officer found a plastic bag with 124 grams of cocaine under the driver's seat. At trial the defendant contended that the car was not his and he did not know about the cocaine.

The arresting officer took pictures showing a plastic bag protruding from under the driver's seat. However, the officer never testified that he saw the defendant hide the bag. In addition, there were no fingerprints or other evidence linking Watson to the bag of cocaine.

Counsel for the defendant argued that the defendant had no knowledge of the cocaine and that there was no evidence to show that Watson placed the drugs under the seat.

In the rebuttal argument, the state contended that it could be inferred from the bag's position that the defendant was trying to conceal the cocaine before the police stopped him. During this argument the defense attorney objected three times concerning the concealment. The court overruled each objection. The court also denied defense counsel's motion for a mistrial.

The defendant was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison with a three year minimum mandatory sentence.

This case, as many others involving trafficking in cocaine, raises the issue of possession, either actual or constructive, by the defendant.

Proof of constructive possession requires the state to establish that the defendant had dominion and control over the contraband, knew of its presence, and knew of its illegal nature. Brown v. State, 428 So. 2d 250, 252 (Fla. 1983). In this case, where the defendant did not own the vehicle, the fact that he was driving the car in which the police found the cocaine did not prove actual or constructive possession.

In an effort to overcome this weakness, the state improperly argued that the way the bag containing the cocaine was hidden was proof that the defendant attempted to hide the cocaine prior to being stopped by the police. This argument was made even though there was no evidence from the police officer that he observed the defendant taking any action that could be construed as hiding the cocaine.

The state's argument was that the presence of the cocaine in the car, even though not readily apparent, was sufficient to prove that the defendant was the one who hid the cocaine. Under such a theory, a person driving a car in which cocaine was hidden in any location would be subjected to the state's argument that because the cocaine was hidden, the defendant driving the car must have hidden the cocaine and therefore knew of the cocaine's presence.

The court noted that in closing argument, the prosecutor must confine his presentation to evidence in the record and may not make comments that cannot be reasonably inferred from the evidence. The court rejected the state's argument that the bag's position gave rise to an inference that the defendant was seeking to conceal the drugs. The case was reversed and remanded for new trial.

Defense counsel must be vigilant against such tactics, which can be employed by a prosecutor to bolster a weak case by drawing an inference which is not supported by the evidence. Such problems can arise in cases involving trafficking or drug possession in a car driven by the defendant.

The case of Watson v. State, 50 So. 3d. 685 (Fla. 3d DCA 2010) involved a conviction for trafficking in cocaine.

Evidence at trial showed that the defendant was stopped by the police for driving erratically. The police officer found a plastic bag with 124 grams of cocaine under the driver's seat. At trial the defendant contended that the car was not his and he did not know about the cocaine.

The arresting officer took pictures showing a plastic bag protruding from under the driver's seat. However, the officer never testified that he saw the defendant hide the bag. In addition, there were no fingerprints or other evidence linking Watson to the bag of cocaine.

Counsel for the defendant argued that the defendant had no knowledge of the cocaine and that there was no evidence to show that Watson placed the drugs under the seat.

In the rebuttal argument, the state contended that it could be inferred from the bag's position that the defendant was trying to conceal the cocaine before the police stopped him. During this argument the defense attorney objected three times concerning the concealment. The court overruled each objection. The court also denied defense counsel's motion for a mistrial.

The defendant was convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison with a three year minimum mandatory sentence.

This case, as many others involving trafficking in cocaine, raises the issue of possession, either actual or constructive, by the defendant.

Proof of constructive possession requires the state to establish that the defendant had dominion and control over the contraband, knew of its presence, and knew of its illegal nature. Brown v. State, 428 So. 2d 250, 252 (Fla. 1983). In this case, where the defendant did not own the vehicle, the fact that he was driving the car in which the police found the cocaine did not prove actual or constructive possession.

In an effort to overcome this weakness, the state improperly argued that the way the bag containing the cocaine was hidden was proof that the defendant attempted to hide the cocaine prior to being stopped by the police. This argument was made even though there was no evidence from the police officer that he observed the defendant taking any action that could be construed as hiding the cocaine.

The state's argument was that the presence of the cocaine in the car, even though not readily apparent, was sufficient to prove that the defendant was the one who hid the cocaine. Under such a theory, a person driving a car in which cocaine was hidden in any location would be subjected to the state's argument that because the cocaine was hidden, the defendant driving the car must have hidden the cocaine and therefore knew of the cocaine's presence.

The court noted that in closing argument, the prosecutor must confine his presentation to evidence in the record and may not make comments that cannot be reasonably inferred from the evidence. The court rejected the state's argument that the bag's position gave rise to an inference that the defendant was seeking to conceal the drugs. The case was reversed and remanded for new trial.

Defense counsel must be vigilant against such tactics, which can be employed by a prosecutor to bolster a weak case by drawing an inference which is not supported by the evidence. Such problems can arise in cases involving trafficking or drug possession in a car driven by the defendant.

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