Thursday, October 14, 2010

How Did That Get There?

U.S. v. Gonzalez-Rodriguez - the 5th Circuit (Federal) took a look at what to do when drugs are hidden in a compartment of an indivudal's vehicle.

The Court explained that generally, a jury may infer that a defendant has knowledge of drugs in a vehicle when the defendant exercises control over the vehicle. However, when drugs are hidden in a secret compartment, guilty knowledge may not be inferred solely from the defendant’s control of the vehicle because there is at least a fair assumption that a third party might have concealed the controlled substances in the vehicle with the intent to use the unwitting defendant as the carrier in a smuggling enterprise. In secret compartment cases, this circuit requires additional circumstantial evidence that is suspicious in nature and demonstrates guilty knowledge.

In this case there was sufficient suspicious circumstantial evidence to support the defendant’s conviction. First, a packing house manager testified that it would have been almost impossible for the methamphetamine to be loaded into the defendant’s trailer without detection at the warehouse where the load originated. Second, a witness testified that it would have been extremely difficult to unload the drugs from the trailer at the destination warehouse without detection. Third, there was a suspicious gap in time, from the time the defendant left the original warehouse, until the time he arrived at the Falfurrias immigration checkpoint where the Border Patrol Agents discovered the drugs. Fourth, the defendant had a key to the lock on the trailer and was able to open the trailer at the checkpoint. Finally, the 312.5 pound of methamphetamine that was seized was worth between ten and forty million dollars. A jury could reasonably infer that the defendant would not have been entrusted with such a large amount and high value of methamphetamine unless he knew he was part of the drug trafficking scheme.