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Criminal Nuggets


Nov 25, 2014

http://illinoiscaselaw.com/drug-trafficking-evidence-proving-knowledge

Drug trafficking evidence has shifted to more liberal interpretation of suspicious behavior around drugs delivered through the mail.Drug trafficking evidence has shifted to more liberal interpretation of suspicious behavior around drugs delivered through the mail.

People v. Jones, 2014 IL App (3d) 121016 (11/17/2014) changes the rules, and is discussed in Podcast Episode 031 of the Criminal Nuggets Podcast.

http://youtu.be/yLpLNbsHMho

The State charged defendant with unlawful cannabis trafficking (720 ILCS 550/5.1(a)) and unlawful possession of cannabis with intent to deliver (720 ILCS 550/5(f).)

Facts

FedEx security specialist noted this package was -

  • Shipped from southern state
  • Paid for by cash
  • No signature was required
  • Phone number for shipper and receiver was the same
  • All the seams taped

They notified the police. Police brought in the sniff dogs. After the dog alerted, a warrant was obtained, and the package was opened.

Class X amount of cannabis was inside. A tracking device was placed in the package. It was delivered by agents.

The package was left by the front door after no one answered. A female retrieved it. 13 minutes later a Defendant arrived at the residence. Defendant is then driven away from the home.

The car is then stopped by police. Defendant was in the passenger’s seat holding the closed package.

Defendant denied knowing what was in the package and stated he thought it was some shoes that he had ordered.

Charges

Defendant was charged under Illinois Compiled Statutes Section 5.1 of the Cannabis Control Act (Act) for cannabis trafficking which provides that

"any person who knowingly brings or causes to be brought into this State *** with the intent to manufacture or deliver 2,500 grams or more of cannabis in this State or any other state or country is guilty of cannabis trafficking."

720 ILCS 550/5.1(a).

Similarly, the Cannabis Control Act also provides that it is unlawful for any person to knowingly possess with intent to deliver cannabis. 720 ILCS 550/5.

The charges require the State to prove that a defendant had knowledge of the cannabis. See People v. Schmalz, 194 Ill. 2d 75, 81 (2000).

Issue

Did the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant knew there was Cannabis in the package?

Drug Trafficking Evidence on Knowledge

A body of case law existed essentially stating that suspicious behavior around receiving a drug package could not be used to establish if the receiver was aware that drugs were in the package.

"The element of knowledge is rarely susceptible of direct proof and may be established by evidence of acts, declarations or conduct of the defendant which support the inference that he knew of the existence of narcotics ***." People v. Nwosu, 289 Ill. App. 3d 487, 494 (1997). “While a trier of fact may infer knowledge from suspicious behavior, mere possession of an unopened package containing drugs is insufficient to sustain a conviction for which knowledge is an element.” ¶  28. See also People v. Hodogbey, 306 Ill. App. 3d 555 (1999).

Analysis

The reviewing court departed from the idea that —"suspicious behavior in the vicinity of narcotics will not suffice as proof of knowledge as to their presence"—  People v. Hodogbey, 306 Ill. App. 3d 555 (1999).

The court found numerous suspicious circumstances allow a rational trier of fact to infer that defendant had knowledge of the contents of the package.

For example -

  • Package delivered to another house
  • He took it even though it did not have his name
  • He took it even though it didn't have his address
  • Within 18 minutes of delivery he is picking it up
  • He doesn’t drive there even though he has a car
  • Leaves the residence immediately after receiving the package
  • Says he is returning it to FedEx but driving the wrong way
  • He lied to police in the interview

“Due to defendant's suspicious behavior immediately before and after picking up the package, as well as his inconsistent and false statements to police, a rational trier of fact could easily infer that defendant knew that the package contained cannabis.” ¶ 33

The court made it a point to highlight the following cases and to depart from their rulings -

  • People v. Hodogbey, 306 Ill. App. 3d 555 (1999)
  • People v. Boswell, 19 Ill. App. 3d 619, 621 (1974)
  • People v. Brown, 2012 IL App (2d) 110640
  • People v. Ackerman, 2 Ill. App. 3d 903 (1971)
  • People v. Jackson, 23 Ill. 2d 360 (1961)
  • People v. Mack, 12 Ill. 2d 151 (1957)

Holding

“A trier of fact is, indeed, entitled to draw a commonsense inference that a defendant's suspicious behavior resulted from his knowledge that he was committing a crime.” ¶ 26.

The State did provide evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant knew there was something illegal in that package.

Take Aways

Minimal amounts of suspicious behavior may be taken into account in the calculus of determining if the defendant knew there were drugs in the package.  Typically, the Hodogbey, line of cases featured the barest amounts of suspicious behaviour. 

Rather than thinking of those cases being overruled it may be more useful to think of them as being limited to the facts in those cases.

Thus, any future case that still compares to Hodogbey and its progeny is in a good situation for a "not guilty" or a victory on appeal.

Keep an eye on how soon the accused is arrested after the package is open and tally up any "inconsistencies" in the interrogation.