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Garcia v. Florida

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence. Search incident to arrest, two deputies found a ball that was later determined to be a mixture of methamphetamine and a cutting agent. Defendant was charged with a trafficking charge, but was convicted of a lesser-included possession of illegal substance offense. Defendant appealed alleging the trial court improperly instructed the jury on the definition of possession. The appellate court agreed with Defendant, but noted Defendant did not preserve the issue on appeal.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The illegal possession of an illegal substance charge requires that one has knowledge of the presence of the illegal substance, as well as the nature of the illegal substance.

    Facts.

    Joseph Irizarry, Deputy Sheriff, observed Garcia, Defendant, driving erratically. Deputy Sheriff approached Defendant’s car and conducted a sobriety test on the field. Thereafter, Deputy Sheriff arrested Defendant for driving while under the influence. Further, two additional deputies arrived on the scene and searched Defendant’s car incident to his arrest. Underneath the front passenger seat, the deputies found what they thought was a softball with electrical tape around it. The laboratory report indicated that the item the found was a mix of methamphetamine and a cutting agent. Defendant asserted that he did not know that the item was in his car or what the item contained. Also, Defendant claims that other people have access to his car and that the car was recently stolen and returned to him. Thereafter, Defendant was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine, but convicted of, the lesser-included offense, possession of methamphetamine. The trial court instructed the jury that the Defendant must be found to have knowledge that the substance was actually methamphetamine was a required for the offense. For the lesser -included offense, the trial court did not specifically instruct the jury that Defendant must be found to have knowledge of the nature of the illegal substance, but the trial court did state that the definition of possession, as provided in the trafficking charge, still to applied. Defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds that the trial court improperly instructed the jury on possession, because it did not expressly require knowledge of the illegal substance.  The appellate court agreed with Defendant, nevertheless, the court noted Defendant did not preserved the issue on appeal. Further, since the error was not a fundamental one, it could not be addressed without preservation.

    Issue.

    Whether an illegal possession of an illegal substance charge requires both that one has knowledge of the presence of the illegal substance, as well as the nature of the illegal substance.

    Held.

    Yes, an illegal possession of an illegal substance charge requires both that one has knowledge of the presence of the illegal substance, as well as the nature of the illegal substance.

    Dissent.

    This information has been excluded from the casebook excerpt.

    Discussion.

    The illegal possession of an illegal substance charge requires that one has knowledge of the presence of the illegal substance, as well as the nature of the illegal substance. Further, even though the Defendant must have knowledge of the presence of the illegal substance, a deduction can be made that the Defendant had knowledge if the Defendant was in exclusive possession of the illegal substance. Precedents show that knowledge of the nature of the illicit substance is also required. State v. Dominguez, 509 So. 2d 917 (Fla. 1987) (holding the Defendant must have knowledge of the illegal substance to be charged and convicted with a trafficking offense); Chicone v. State, 684 So. 2d 736 (Fla. 1996). Moreover, culpable knowledge is a requisite element for possession of an illegal substance charge. Further, the prosecution has the burden to prove that Defendant knew the nature of the illegal substance in his possession. Defendant may ask for a jury instruction elaborating on the nature of this requirement, and if the court denies the request, it is reversible error. Here, Defendant states that he did not know the item was in his vehicle or that it even existed. Thus, this suggest that Defendant’s knowledge of the substance is in dispute, and the trial judge’s failure to properly instruct the jury was reversible error and the decision is reversed.


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