Law School Case Brief
United States v. Maldonado - 23 F.3d 4 (1st Cir. 1994)
Under settled law, possession includes not merely the state of immediate, hands-on physical possession but also constructive possession, including possession through another, and joint as well as exclusive possession. Further these concepts can be combined so that, for example, joint constructive possession is quite as bad as having the drugs exclusively in one's own pocket. These concepts of constructive and joint possession are almost uniformly reflected in both decisions and in standard instructions.
A jury in federal district court convicted defendant Rafael Angel Zavala Maldonado of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute after drugs were found in a hotel room that he occupied and were left in the room with his consent and knowledge. On appeal, Maldonado argued that the evidence was insufficient to support the conviction and that defense counsel's closing argument was improperly hampered by objections from the prosecutor.
Was the evidence sufficient to support a conviction?
The appellate court affirmed Maldonado's conviction. The court explained that the conviction for possession could stand only if a reasonable jury could find that Maldonado did possess the cocaine. While there was no evidence that he even touched the bag or saw the cocaine or that he was ever alone in the room with it or that he had a practical opportunity to remove it from the hotel, under settled law, possession included not merely the state of immediate, hands-on physical possession but also constructive possession, including possession through another, and joint as well as exclusive possession. The conviction was affirmed because the drugs were left in Maldonado's room with his knowledge and consent while he was awaiting the arrival of an accomplice to pay for them. It was also fair to describe the location as Maldonado's hotel room because he was effectively in occupation and the jury could reasonably infer that he could return there at will.
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