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A Tough Loss on an Odd “Drugs in the Car” Case

IMG_0179-e1519940395141-300x142It’s pretty rare that you get a chance to meet your heroes.  I haven’t.  But years ago, when I was playing in bands, our band manager Sarah met the lead singer of our favorite band.

I couldn’t wait to hear from Sarah about her encounter, she actually interviewed him.

Needless to say, even though his music was brilliant–the man himself was severely lacking.  Sarah was deflated and she learned the hard way the old cliche ‘never meet your heroes’.  Part of this cliche is rooted in the fact that a person’s genius in one area of life doesn’t mean that the person is great in all areas of their life.  We all know that a great actor rarely has any sort of superior wisdom over the bum on the street.  As Pat Sajak noted, “Trust me, one’s view of the world isn’t any clearer from the back seat of a limo.”

Now, let’s get to some legal stuff.  My apologies for the rough segue.

If you’re accused of possession of a controlled substance, there are only two ways that you can be convicted of this crime: First, the state may prove that you “actually” possessed the drug.

Meaning, the drugs were in your hand.  Or, the drugs were in your pocket, sock, bra, anywhere on your person.

The second way the state can prove a drug possession charge is when they prove that you have “constructive possession” of the drug.  Meaning, the drug wasn’t in your hand or pocket, but it was located in a place occupied by multiple people, but the prosecutor has proof that you have control over the drugs based upon independent evidence (a topic worthy of several chapters in a book, but we’ll condense this to a few paragraphs.  You’re welcome.)

It is harder to prove constructive possession than it is to prove actual possession because constructive possession requires independent proof of knowledge, dominion, and control.

Our real-life case for today is Bradwell v. State 2020 Fla.App.Lexis 9202 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020).  He was convicted possession of heroin, possession of methamphetamines, and drug trafficking.  The trafficking offense carried a minimum mandatory 3 years in prison, but Bradwell was given a twenty (20) year prison sentence.

Here’s what happened.

Bradwell’s car was stopped because the officer had information Bradwell’s license was suspended.  Bradwell was driving, owned the car, and he had a passenger named Malinosky.  A K-9 unit arrived at the scene and alerted for drugs in the car.  In the back seat of Bradwell’s car, there was a pile of clothes.

Underneath the clothes there was a safe.

Not just a small personal safe, but a bigger safe, about three feet in size.

Now, nothing gets searching cops salivating like a locked safe.  Remember back in the day when Geraldo had a live special opening up King Tut’s Tomb? Yes, the air gets thick with excitement, the cops call all their buddies over, it is a big deal.

Bradwell wasn’t giving up the code to the safe, nor was the passenger.

So, because this K-9 alerted on this car, these officers proceeded to utterly destroy this safe in order to get it open. The cops made such a big production over opening this that you’d expect the inside of the safe to radiate yellow beams of light, Indian Jones style.

Inside the safe, they found a trafficking amount of drugs, and Bradwell is now serving a 20-year prison sentence.

If the story just ended there, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because there would be no way to tie the drugs in the safe to Bradwell.

Sure, it’s Bradwell’s car.  Sure, he’s driving.  But, at this point, there’s no independent evidence that Bradwell knows what’s in the safe or has any sort of control of the safe’s contents.  Again, as the appellate court indicated in this case, “the State is required to prove that the defendant knew of the presence of the contraband and had the ability to maintain dominion and control over it. . . additionally, when, as here, the premises where the contraband is found are in joint possession, the State must establish the knowledge and ability to maintain control elements by independent proof.” id.

However, I didn’t tell you everything about the contents of the safe.  And, this is how Bradwell was sent to prison for several decades.

Inside the safe, there were six receipts from a substance abuse counselor, and these receipts had Bradwell’s name on them.  Also, there was an insurance bill addressed to Bradwell, and paid by Bradwell.

And this my friends, is what we call “independent evidence”.

And this my friends, is what we call “convenient.”

It is amazing how many times I’ve had cases where the officers find documents with a defendant’s name on it right next to the drug stash.  I haven’t quoted C+C Music Factory in a while (ever?), but file this under things that make you go Hmmmm.

The appellate court found this independent proof convincing, noting that there was no “evidence suggesting that the safe or its contents belonged to Bradwell’s passenger. . . Moreover . . . an inference of knowledge and control may arise where the contraband in a jointly occupied area is found in or about other personal property that is shown to be owned or controlled by the defendant. . . . in addition to the undisputed evidence that Bradwell owned and controlled the car, the State presented evidence that the safe itself belonged to him or, at the very least, that he had control over it.” id. 

As such, Bradwell’s appeal was denied.  He is stuck with his 20-year sentence.