Friday, June 18, 2010

The Links Test for Narcotics Possession (a.k.a. Roommate Convictions)

What can happen if your rommate, be it husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, son, daughter, or simply acquaintance, possesses or deals drugs from your jointly shared residence?  Can you be convicted even if you have nothing to do with it?  You bet your glass pipe you can!

A couple of cases from the 1st and 14th District Courts of  Appeals (Houston) were published last week regarding the Links Test, defining what factors a trial court considers to determine whether there is enough evidence to "link" you to the narcotics possession/distribution.  Links (weblinks, that is) to the cases are below.  Briefly, here's what the Courts explained:
When...the accused is not in exclusive possession of the place where contraband is found, additional independent facts and circumstances must link the accused to the contraband in such a way that it can be concluded that the accused had knowledge of the contraband and exercised control over it.  The evidence must demonstrate that the link between the accused and the contraband generates a reasonable inference that the accused knew of the contraband‘s existence and exercised control over it.  In other words, the State must establish that the accused‘s connection with the narcotics was more than just fortuitous.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has explained that the purpose of the links rule is to protect the innocent bystander from conviction based solely upon [her] fortuitous proximity to someone else‘s [narcotics].  The links rule simply restates the common-sense notion that a person—such as a father, son, spouse, roommate, or friend—may jointly possess property like a house but not necessarily jointly possess the contraband found in that house.

Texas courts have identified many non-exhaustive factors that may demonstrate a link to contraband.  The factors include whether the narcotics were (1) in plain view; (2) conveniently accessible to the accused; (3) in a place owned, rented, possessed or controlled by the accused; (4) in a car driven by the accused; (5) in close proximity to the accused; or (6) found in an enclosed space; and whether (7) the odor of narcotics was present; (8) drug paraphernalia was in view of or found on the accused; (9) the accused was present; (10) the accused‘s conduct indicated a consciousness of guilt (e.g., furtive gestures, flight, conflicting statements); (11) the accused had a special relationship to the drug; (12) the accused possessed other contraband or narcotics when arrested; (13) the accused was under the influence of narcotics when arrested; (14) the accused made affirmative statements connecting her to the contraband; and (15) the accused was found with a large amount of cash.  These factors constitute a shorthand way of expressing what must be proven to establish that [narcotics] were possessed knowingly.  The number of linking factors present is not as important as the logical force‖ they create to prove that an offense was committed.  The absence of various links does not constitute evidence of innocence to be weighed against the links present (citations omitted).
In both of the published cases below, the links test worked to the advantage of the State despite several weak links in the chain.  I guess in Texas a narcotics conviction is as strong as its strongest link.

Satchell v. State, 1st Dist. - Houston, June 10, 2010.
Roberts v. State, 14th Dist. - Houston, June 10, 2010.