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Iowa v. Cashen

    Brief Fact Summary.

    The State charged Ross Cashen with possession of marijuana, and the jury convicted him of the crime. Defendant appeals on the grounds that the State failed to offer sufficient evidence that he constructively possessed the marijuana.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Mere proximity to a drug does not infer that a defendant has dominion and control over the drug.

    Facts.

    Ross Cashen, Defendant, and five other people in a car, where stopped by an officer for a traffic violation.  Defendant was seated in the back row of the car next to a window with his girlfriend on his lap.  The officer obtained consent to search and found a lighter and Zig-Zag cigarette rolling papers on Defendant’s person. Defendant’s girlfriend as searched by another officer, and the officer found also cigarette rolling paper and a small baggie of marijuana seeds in her pants pocket.  Subsequently, the driver consented to a search of the vehicle, in which the officer found a baggie of marijuana wedged in the rear seat where Defendant and his girlfriend were previously seated.  Defendant denied having knowledge of the marijuana.  Defendant was arrested and placed in jail. Once in jail, Defendant asked the officer is anyone claimed ownership of the marijuana. The officer said no and asked if he thought someone should claim ownership of it. Thereafter, Defendant said the marijuana belonged to his girlfriend.

    Issue.

    Whether the State proved that the Defendant had constructive possession of the marijuana.

    Held.

    No, the State failed to prove that the Defendant had constructive possession of the marijuana.

    Discussion.

    To prove possession of marijuana the State had the burden of proving that the Defendant had dominion and control over the marijuana, the Defendant had knowledge of the contraband’s presence, and the Defendant knew that it was marijuana.  The fact that the officer found rolling paper on Defendant’s person alone does not give rise to a finding that the Defendant had constructive possession of the marijuana, solely that Defendant may had had possession of marijuana in the past or intended to have possession in the future. Also, when Defendant stated he had no knowledge of the marijuana in the vehicle, yet told the officer in jail that it belonged to his girlfriend, solely indicates that Defendant had knowledge of the marijuana, the first element the State has to prove. However, this fact does not illustrate that Defendant had dominion and control over the marijuana, the second element. Lastly, Defendant’s proximity to the drug alone does not indicate dominion or control. See State v. Atkinson, 620 N.W. 2d 1 (Iowa 2000). Therefore, the court found that there was no evidence to prove that the marijuana belonged to Defendant.



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