Iowa Supreme Court Reinstates Drug Possession Conviction

On December 3, 2021 the Iowa Supreme Court reinstated a drug possession conviction in State v. Jones.

The ruling provides a good reminder to the drug defense bar regarding the differences between actual and constructive possession.

The drugs in this case were located in a small drawstring bag on the ground near Jones’ front bumper.  The Iowa Court of Appeals determined this was a constructive possession case because the bag was not found on Jones.

That is an incomplete statement of the law.

A person can be in actual possession when substantial evidence supports a finding the contraband was on the defendant’s person “at one time.”  There is no need to be caught red-handed at the time of the stop or arrest.

But the error did not end there.

The Iowa Court of Appeals also relied on a long rejected distinction between direct and circumstantial evidence.  Direct evidence is not more probative of guilt.  Both are equally probative.

Finally, the court of appeals reasoned the jury impermissibly stacked inferences in reaching a guilt verdict.  But that is only problematic when the jury’s finding crosses from logical inference to speculation.

Here, the evidence supported an inference that someone at the scene dropped the bag near the car.  The glass pipe was completely intact so the bag wasn’t thrown by a passing motorist.  The roadside gravel was damp yet the bag was clean and dry.

The dash camera video showed Jones was the only person present.  Jones passed the exact spot where the deputy located the bag.  He also looked back at the area as if to make sure the bag was not readily visible.

These are all logical inferences supported by the evidence.