Knowledge of Drug Residue Can Be Inferred from Evidence

In State v. Hummell, No. 19-1691 (Nov. 30, 2020), the Iowa Court of Appeals reminds the criminal defense bar that a defendant’s knowledge of contraband can be inferred from evidence.

The facts are pretty straightforward.  Police seized a broken glass vial with a white powdery substance from Hummell’s pocket following his arrest.  Hummell claimed that he regularly picked up random items from the ground and pocketed them.  The residue later tested positive for methamphetamine.

In order to support a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, the State is required to prove two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. That the defendant knowingly and intentionally possessed methamphetamine; and
  2. That he knew the substance he possessed was methamphetamine.

Essentially, the State must prove that the accused exercised dominion and control over contraband, had knowledge of its presence and knew the residue was a controlled substance.

Theoretically, a person in Hummell’s position could possess drug residue without prior knowledge that he was in actual possession of it.  So, attacking the knowledge element is typically the only viable defense available when narcotics are found on the accused.  Because knowledge is a subjective element, it can be reasonably inferred from other evidence such as the accused’s conduct, behavior and declarations.

In this case, Hummell denied knowing that the scavenged items contained drug residue.  The jury was certainly entitled to give that defense the weight it deserved.  However, testimony from his former girlfriend about his drug use, the arresting officer’s opinion that Hummell was under the influence of a narcotic as well as the fact that the residue was clearly visible all pointed to a reasonable inference that he knew the residue in his pocket was methamphetamine.  That amounts to substantial evidence in the record to support a conviction.

The drug defense attorneys at GRL Law understand the complexities of this defense.  We know what it takes to argue that the inferences to be drawn from certain evidence are unreasonable and should be rejected as proof of knowledge.