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The Use of Circumstantial Evidence in Proving Constructive Possession of Contraband

The major tenet of our criminal justice system is the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty. To be proven guilty in criminal proceedings, the burden of proof is on the state and its prosecution team to put forth enough evidence that proves every element of the crime for which the criminal defendant is being charged. It is then on the jury to determine whether the prosecution has proven every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Standards in our criminal justice system are crucial because they provide a definitive threshold that must be crossed before a criminal defendant can lose his/her fundamental rights such as life, liberty, and property.

Direct vs. Circumstantial Evidence

The best evidence when proving each element of a crime is direct evidence. Direct evidence can be a tangible object such as the murder weapon or intangible eyewitness testimony that may place a criminal defendant at the scene of the crime or testimony or provide an alibi. Circumstantial evidence creates a presumption that the jury can decide to what extent they would like to rely on that evidence. For example, circumstantial evidence is seen a lot in drug felony cases, specifically where possession and ownership are at issue.

Knight vs. State of Florida: Florida Supreme Court’s Take on Circumstantial Evidence

The Florida Supreme Court recently ruled on the applicability of the circumstantial evidence standard as it relates to a drug possession case. In Knight vs. State of Florida, a police officer made a traffic stop of the car Knight was driving. The K-9 unit officer, after issuing a citation to Knight for a noise violation, took his dog around the car and the dog proceeded to alert the officer to the passenger side door. Inside the vehicle was Knight’s suitcase which had a small package of marijuana inside. Knight, who was the owner of the suitcase, declared it was not his marijuana and that the bag of cannabis belonged to one of the other passengers of the car who may have stowed the contraband in the suitcase when the police officer went by the car.

The Circumstantial Evidence Applicability to Constructive Possession

At the end of the day, this case is the type that is determined by the circumstantial evidence and is up to the jury to determine whether the weight of the circumstantial evidence points to Knight’s ownership of the drugs or whether the real owner was one of the passengers. Circumstantial evidence and constructive possession of contraband go hand-in-hand as direct evidence would generally prove actual possession. In other words, when the drugs are found on the person, it is considered direct evidence that proves the person knowingly controlled and had dominion over the contraband on his person. Constructive possession evidence requires the opposite; in this case, the circumstantial evidence creates a presumption that a person who owns the suitcase and therefore has dominion and control over that item, is presumed to have knowledge of its contents, including the drugs within.

The Circumstantial Evidence Standard In the Crossfire

To convict someone based on circumstantial evidence where their guilt is presumed based on the totality of circumstances can be tricky because of its lack of definitiveness. The standard in Florida is that to convict, the circumstantial evidence must be inconsistent with any other reasonable hypothesis that could prove innocence. In other words, even if the circumstantial evidence is strongly pointing toward guilt, the criminal defendant can only be convicted if the circumstantial evidence cannot also prove his innocence in another hypothetical scenario. This is why juries exist because they represent the reasonable trier of fact and determine whether the bits and pieces of evidence point to whether or not the criminal defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of Knight, the Florida Supreme Court decided to maintain Knight’s conviction due to the fact that the passenger in the car had a tiny window to store the drugs and the other passengers did not see him stow the drugs in Knight’s bag, thus rejecting any reasonably hypothesis that would prove Knight’s innocence.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been arrested for possession of contraband, an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik can advocate on your behalf and guide you through the criminal justice system. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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