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10th Cir. Tosses Drug Conviction Due to Insufficient Evidence

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on April 28, 2015 4:05 PM

Anthony Washington and Maurice Edwards were both convicted on federal drug possession charges with intent to sell after police found the drugs in the trunk of a rental car Edwards borrowed from his mother.

Trouble is, while it was easy for the jury to tie Edwards to the fourteen bricks of marijuana inside a black duffel bag, Washington's connection wasn't so clear. For that reason, the Tenth Circuit last week reversed Washington's conviction, finding insufficient evidence to tie him to the drugs.

Let's Go for a Ride

Washington's presence in the car wasn't enough to tie him to possession of the drugs. Notably, the car was Edwards' mother's rental car and the black duffel back in the trunk contained a receipt with Edwards' name on it. Under either a theory of direct liability or aiding and abetting, the government had to prove that Washington knew about the drugs in the trunk.

So what was the government's evidence, even though Washington had no drugs on him and none of his fingerprints were found in the trunk? The presence of drugs and scales in the car; aluminum foil found near Washington's notebook, and the fact that Washington helped Edwards pack the car, the bags were really heavy for such a short trip, and Washington knew that Edwards lied to his mother about why they needed the car.

This Doubt Is Very Reasonable

None of that evidence, said the court, added up to nearly enough to convict Washington. Admittedly, Washington didn't know what was in the duffel bag. And the scales? Those were in containers he couldn't see inside, one of which was supposed to look like an iPhone.

Strike one.

The aluminum foil is significant in that it could mean that Washington smoked marijuana on the trip, and if he did, he might have known there was more marijuana in the car. The Tenth Circuit didn't like this one, either, because the government never proved whether the smell was burned or unburned marijuana. While it's true they brought enough marijuana along to smoke in the car, there was no evidence the marijuana in the duffel bags would have alerted someone to its presence. Also, aluminum foil is used for methamphetamine, not marijuana.

Strike two.

And even though Washington helped pack the car, the things he did see were innocuous: a Cold-Eeze box, a green tea extract bottle, and the duffel bag, none of which indicated there were drugs inside.

The other claims the government raised in the third argument, the court said, were actually factually wrong. There was no evidence that Washington knew what Edwards had told his mother. There was also no evidence about how long the trip was going to be, such that Washington should be suspicious about the large quantity of luggage.

Strike three.

The government was left with Washington's presence in the car and speculation about what he might have known was going to happen. That simply wasn't enough to sustain a conviction for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute.

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