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Do Prosecutors Need To Prove I Knew About The Specific Illegal Drugs That I Allegedly Possessed?


There are numerous federal and state laws that prohibit the possession of certain drugs. The federal statute states it is unlawful to “knowingly or intentionally” possess with intent to “manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance.” The phrase controlled substance refers to a drug listed in one of five categories (or “schedules”) as having a risk for dependence or abuse.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that conviction of federal drug possession charges only requires prosecutors to prove that the defendant knew they “possessed a substance listed on the schedules, even if [they] did not know which substance it was.” In other words, if prosecutors can show you were carrying a bag that you knew to contain some type of controlled substance, it is not necessary to show you knew the specific illegal drug that you were carrying.

Postal Inspection Leads to Five-Year Sentence for Florida Woman

A recent decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, United States v. Colston, provides a helpful illustration of this point. This case originated in Alabama. A local postal inspector in Mobile identified what he considered a “suspicious” package sent from California to Florida. The inspector ran the names and addresses listed on the package through a law enforcement database. This revealed that the addresses on both ends were associated with the same person, who was not the same as the names listed on the package. The inspector also considered it a “red flag” that the package’s sender had paid a “large amount” in cash for postage and shipped the package two-day priority.

Based on the inspector’s suspicions, law enforcement in Mobile obtained a search warrant for the package. Inside the package, officers found 2 kilograms of cocaine, worth approximately $200,000.

The person who sent the package apparently got nervous when it never arrived in Florida, so he and another woman–the defendant in this case–decided to locate the package themselves. They visited a local post office in Florida, which informed them the package was in Mobile. The woman then asked the postal supervisor in Florida if she “could drive to Mobile herself to pick it up.” The supervisor said she could, but this only made him suspicious of her.

The next day, the defendant walked into the lobby of the Mobile post office and retrieved the package from a mail clerk–who in practice was the mail inspector who initiated the investigation. Once the defendant left the post office with the package, she was placed under arrest. A grand jury later indicted the defendant for possessing a Schedule II controlled substance, i.e., cocaine. A jury found the defendant guilty and a judge sentenced her to 5 years in prison.

On appeal, the defendant argued the prosecution failed to prove she knew that there was cocaine in the package she retrieved from the Mobile post office. The 11th Circuit rejected this argument. It held the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to “allow a rational jury to infer that she knew the package contained” some sort of controlled substance. The jury did not have to find she knew the controlled substance was actually cocaine.

Contact Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer Jose Baez Today

Many people get caught up in larger drug sting operations, often without knowledge of what they are doing. If you have been charged with a federal or state offense and need advice from an Orlando drug crimes lawyer, contact the Baez Law Firm today to schedule a consultation.


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