Maryland Court Rules Evidence Sufficient to Support “Possession” of Contraband Drug Convictions

The outcome of a criminal case often depends in large part on the sufficiency of the evidence in light of established Maryland law. There are many defenses that may be asserted with respect to allegedly incriminating evidence. When a person is charged with criminal possession of contraband, courts have held that such possession may be constructive (rather than actual) or joint (rather than exclusive). These distinctions are important and can dramatically affect the result of a criminal case. A person charged with criminal possession of any controlled dangerous substance must take the matter very seriously and contact an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to prepare a strong defense.

In a recent case, Cerrato-Molina v. State, a jury convicted the appellant of possession of marijuana, crack cocaine, and cocaine hydrochloride. The appellant argued that the evidence was legally insufficient to submit the case to the jury. Here, a Maryland Detective was in a marked police vehicle when he noticed two men drinking beer in a white Jeep that was parked with the engine running. As the Detective turned his vehicle around and came up behind the Jeep, it took off suddenly, traveling at a “high rate of speed” through a residential area. As the Detective followed the Jeep, he noticed objects flying out of the front passenger window. A short while later, the Jeep ran up onto a curb and came to a halt. The Detective arrested the driver and passenger, the appellant in this case.

Upon searching the path of the vehicle for the objects that were thrown out of the window, the Detective found three baggies containing suspected drugs that were later submitted to a lab and determined to contain controlled dangerous substances.  In challenging the convictions, the appellant argued that there was no direct evidence that he possessed the drugs found on the street. The court of appeals, however, pointed to established Maryland case law that possession need not be “sole possession” but may be joint possession and joint control in several persons. Accordingly, courts have identified the following list of criteria to determine if joint possession exists:  1) proximity between the defendant and the contraband; 2) whether the contraband was in view or otherwise within the knowledge of the defendant; 3) the ownership or possessory right in the automobile or premises in which the item is found; or 4) circumstances under which a reasonable inference could be made that the defendant was participating with others in the mutual enjoyment and use of the contraband.

The court reviewed all four factors and ultimately determined that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding that both the driver and the appellant were in joint actual or constructive possession of the controlled dangerous substances. For one, the fact that the contraband was in the car with the appellant satisfied the “proximity” factor. The second factor was satisfied by the tossing of the bags of drugs out of the vehicle’s window, right in front of the appellant. The third factor was not found, but the fourth was. Under the circumstances of this case, there was a “reasonable and permitted inference” that the driver and the appellant were taking part in a “mutual recreational agenda.”

This decision highlights the critical need to understand how specific Maryland case law is applied to and can seriously affect the outcome of a criminal case. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is vitally important that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney from the local area as soon as possible.  Anthony A. Fatemi has extensive experience handling criminal defense cases in Maryland.  Our office will work diligently to develop a strong strategy to defend your case. Contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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