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United States v. Maldonado

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Maldonado (Defendant) was convicted of possessing cocaine when it was found in his hotel room. He appealed, arguing that he did not possess the drugs.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Constructive possession occurs when an individual has power and intention to exercise control over an item not physically in his possession.

    Facts.

    Santos was acting on behalf of federal customs agents when he went to a hotel in Puerto Rico with cocaine. He asked for Palestino, the suspected dealer, at the desk. The desk clerk called the room and Defendant came to the lobby and retrieved Santos. Defendant took Santos to his hotel room where Santos told him that he had drugs for Palestino. Defendant told Santos he would contact Palestino and have him come to the hotel. While waiting for Palestino to arrive, Santos put the bag containing the cocaine into the room’s closet. Santos and Defendant left the hotel room and were stopped by customs agents. Defendant was tried and convicted for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.  He appealed, arguing that he was not in possession of the cocaine.

    Issue.

    Is an individual in possession of cocaine when his knowledge of its existence can be inferred and he has power and intention to control the item even though it is not physically in his possession?

    Held.

    (Boudin, J.) Yes. Constructive possession occurs when an individual has power and intention to exercise control over an item not physically in his possession. Constructive possession includes items hidden in a drawer at home, or held by an agent, secured in a safe deposit box at the bank. It can be argued that Defendant did not constructively possess the drugs while he and Santos were in the hotel room together. Once they left the drugs in the room and departed, Santos surrendered possession. The drugs were left in Defendant’s room with his knowledge and consent while awaiting Palestino’s arrival. Defendant intended to store the drugs in his room and then to turn them over to Palestino, demonstrating his power over the drugs and intention to exercise control over the drugs.

    Discussion.

    When determining possession of items found in a defendant’s home or car, the location within the home or car is important. Possession is not automatic, especially when the home or car is shared. If the object is found in a domain especially accessible to the defendant, and knowledge of the item is admitted or inferred, a jury can find possession.


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