In a criminal law matter, the Appellate Court of Connecticut found that the State provided sufficient evidence to convict a defendant of possession of narcotics with intent to sell (PWID).
At 2am on October 19, 2004, a Norwalk police officer observed a vehicle near a business that reported problems with trespassing and the presence of narcotics transactions. After following this vehicle, the officer saw another one in the business’ parking lot, so he initiated a traffic stop of the second vehicle and radioed for assistance. The car had three occupants including the defendant, who was located behind the front-seat passenger. All appeared nervous, and the driver claimed the defendant was his uncle and they were there picking him up. When the officer went to run a check on the driver, the defendant changed his position to behind the driver’s seat.
After backup arrived, the officers placed the occupants under arrest for trespass. However, as the defendant exited the car, officers observed forty-three knotted bags and envelopes with cocaine, a small bag of marijuana, and $15 cash in plain view on the floor behind the front passenger seat. A search of the vehicle produced another bag of marijuana, a cell phone, and $640 in small denominations. No drugs or paraphernalia were found on the defendant, though after being transported to the police station, he provided a false name.
The Defendant’s Charges
The defendant was charged with PWID (cocaine), a violation of Connecticut General Statutes § 21a-227(a), as well as other crimes. At trial, State witnesses testified that the cocaine was packaged in a manner consistent with sales and the defendant was located in a known high drug activity area with no paraphernalia located on him indicating personal use. In addition, the presence of a cell phone and cash in small denominations is common in situations involving drug sales. At the close of State’s evidence, defense counsel moved for a judgment of acquittal, which was denied.
The jury returned guilty verdicts and the defendant renewed his motion, which was again denied. On appeal, he argued in part that the court improperly denied his motion for a judgment of acquittal because the State failed to provide sufficient evidence that he possessed the cocaine and that he intended to sell it.
To convict a defendant for PWID, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he “knew the character of the substance, knew of its presence and exercised dominion and control over it.” However, where the defendant does not have exclusive possession of the premises containing the drugs, the State must proceed on a theory of constructive possession, or possession without direct physical contact. Knowledge of the substance cannot be inferred without a showing of incriminating statements and other circumstances. Intent to sell, the second element, may be proven by the manner in which the narcotics are packaged, the defendant’s presence in a known drug trafficking area, and the absence of drug paraphernalia indicating personal use of the substance.
In this case, the Appellate Court found that the jury could reasonably infer that the defendant constructively possessed the cocaine and intended to sell it. The Court specifically cited such behavior as the defendant’s movement in the car to distance himself from the narcotics, easy access to the narcotics, and his close proximity indicating he had knowledge of its narcotic character because “[i]t is by now common knowledge that cocaine is often packaged as a white powder in small plastic bags.”
This form of packaging, in conjunction with the defendant’s presence in a known drug trafficking area and the fact police found no drug paraphernalia on his person, allowed a jury to reasonably infer the defendant intended to sell the cocaine. Therefore, the defendant’s sufficiency of the evidence claim failed.
Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.
When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.