Court Upholds Questionable Interpretation of Constructive Possession
Recently, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an amended definition of constructive possession that may have misled the jury in a drug crime case. The decision has implications for defendants and prompts a look into the difference between constructive and actual possession.
Constructive versus Actual Possession
To fully understand the significance of the recent court decision, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the difference between actual and constructive possession. These legal principles come into play when someone is suspected of drug possession.
The definition of actual possession is fairly straightforward. It means that a suspect had immediate and direct physical control over a piece of property. For example, someone who has drug paraphernalia in their pockets when he or she is arrested is considered to have actual possession of that property.
Under the principle of constructive possession, however, the suspect does not have direct possession of property. Instead, the suspected individual may have the intent and the ability to possess a piece of property, but that property is not under their direct control or in their presence at the time of their arrest.
Whether or not property or illegal material is actually or constructively possessed can have a major impact in the outcome of a criminal trial. While it is hard to deny that one did not have the intent to control a piece of property when it is in one’s pocket, it is a lot easier to create reasonable doubt about a defendant’s intent to commit a crime if the property in question was not in his or her direct possession.
The Court Upholds a Questionable Definition of Constructive Possession
In the recent Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals case, the appellant argued that the government amending the definition of constructive possession provided to the jury eliminated the requirement that the defendant had intent to possess the illegal property in question, in this case cocaine. This change made it possible for the jury to convict the appellant without establishing that he intended to commit the crime.
Additionally, the appellant argued that since he was in the driveway at the time of the police search and was not in the house where the police found the cocaine, it was not possible for the jury to rule beyond a reasonable doubt that he had dominion over the residence and possessed the drugs.
The Court of Appeals upheld the government’s changes to the definition of constructive possession, though it did have reservations. However, the court explained that though there were issues with the government’s new definition of constructive possession, there was not enough evidence that the new definition was flawed enough to improperly instruct the jury. Thus, the appellant’s conviction was upheld.
In the recent court decision, the definition of constructive possession in the jury instructions did not include the requirement that a suspect must have the intent to possess the property in question. This is why the decision to uphold the faulty definition may have implications for defendants. If the government is allowed to change the definition of established legal terms at will to fit their case, it will make it very difficult to build a strong defense based on established legal principles.
The recent court decision to allow the government to change legal terms at will makes it more important than ever before to hire a competent criminal defense attorney. If you have been accused of constructive possession of drugs or other illegal property, please contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.