Package Arrives Containing Drugs, Now What?

cardboard_box_love.jpgAs a kid, Christmas was a big deal. I couldn’t wait for those gifts. Sure, I was guilty of a little house snooping, Nancy Drew style. But my parents were always one step ahead, and I never caught a glimpse of the unwrapped packages.

Even as adults, we can get a little anxious for packages to arrive. That’s especially true of our friends that await drug shipments. To them, it’s like Christmas, all over again. No, I don’t know this from personal experience, but after defending criminal cases for 20 years, you start to see patterns in behavior.

Today we’re going to review one of my favorite cases involving the possession of a controlled substance. The principles of law we’re reviewing today apply to all drug cases in the State of Florida, fyi.

In the case of State v. Snyder, Snyder knew his friend Parker had some drugs being delivered via the postal service, so he decided to join in the fun. 635 So.2d 1057 (Fla. 2nd DCA 1994). Like giddy little kids, Snyder and Parker went to pick up Parker’s package full of drugs from the post office. They couldn’t wait to do some lines of, in this case, methamphetamines. So, why wait till you get home? They took the package back to their car, butsted it open, and Parker created a few lines for the friends to share…The reason Snyder is a “favorite” case of mine is because the case clarifies many points that prosecutors don’t want to hear. [Yes, this is the second time I’ve mentioned this case, but we’re coming at it from a slightly different angle today.]

Back to the story. So, Snyder is ready to do a line of Parker’s drugs, but the cops show up before the two friends ever have a chance to snort the drugs up their noses. Now, because Parker offered a hit of his drugs, Snyder admitted to police that he was ready to do a line of meth. The problem is, Snyder never got his chance. You see, his friend Parker was the owner of the drugs. His friend Parker was the recipient of the package full of meth. So, Snyder was only going to get to “possess” the meth so long as his friend Parker would let him. As chance would have it, the police arrived before he ever got his chance. Thus, Snyder’s criminal defense attorney filed a Motion to Dismiss based upon lack of facts to establish constructive possession (more on what that means later).

The Motion to Dismiss was granted, and the state appealed.

Many prosecutors have problems understanding just how this case could have been dismissed. This is open and shut, right? Well. A defendant “sees” a drug in plain view. Guilty. A defendant “knows” that the substance is, in fact, an illegal drug. Super guilty. A defendant admits that he can’t wait to actually snort the drug. Dumb admission, 2 minute guilty verdict. But the case gets dismissed. Why? Because Snyder was not “actually” possessing a drug. Parker was. By “actual possession”, I mean, Snyder had it in his hand or pocket. That wasn’t the case here. His friend Parker had the lines of drugs formed on his lap in the car, but Snyder never got the chance to bend over across the seat to take his hit of meth. When the State charges someone for possessing a drug that was not actually in their possession but merely nearby in proximity to several people–that’s called “constructive possession”.

Constructive possession is tough to prove. I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep saying it. Constructive possession requires proof of three things: (1) knowledge of the drug, (2) dominion over the drug, and (3) control over the drug. If you don’t have all three, you cannot get a conviction for constructive possession. [many courts lump together dominion and control as one thing–I believe they both must be proven, but that’s a topic for another day]

And really, that’s what happen in Snyder’s case. Snyder had knowledge, but he didn’t have “dominion and control” of the controlled substance. The State had Snyder within inches of the drugs. The State had Snyder admit that he was about to partake of the drug via snorting a line. And, they had Snyder going to the post office with his buddy Parker in order to assist in obtaining the drugs. Open and shut case, right? Wrong.

The appeals court overturned Snyder’s conviction, noting that the “State argues that Snyder’s proximity to the contraband together with his prior knowledge of the delivery and intent to try some of the substance gives rise to the inference that Snyder had a proprietary interest in the methamphetamine. For these facts to give rise to constructive possession, one must infer from the proprietary interest that Snyder had dominion and control. This reasoning is untenable because neither inference can be deduced from the available facts and because the ultimate existence of constructive possession requires an impermissible pyramiding of inferences” further reasoning that Snyder had no “immediate right to reduce the methamphetamine to his possession … because Parker had not yet relinquished control over the line he was organizing for their use.id at 1058
Couldn’t have said it better myself.