United States v. Jewell

532 F.2d 697 (9th Cir. 1976)



When knowledge of the existence of a particular fact is an element of an offense, such knowledge is established if a person is aware of a high probability of its existence, unless he actually believes that it does not exist.


Defendant was convicted of possessing a controlled substance in violation of 21 U.S.C.S. § 841(a)(1). At trial, the jury was instructed that violation of the statute required specific intent and that "knowledge" under the statute did not require that defendant had "positive knowledge" that a controlled substance was involved. The court held that "knowledge" under § 841(a)(1) encompassed not only "positive knowledge" but also "deliberate ignorance." Since there was evidence demonstrating that defendant deliberately avoided positive knowledge of the presence of controlled substances, defendant's conviction was affirmed.


Did the trial court err in convicting the defendant based on the evidence he had deliberately avoided positive knowledge of the presence of controlled substances?




Appellant's narrow interpretation of "knowingly" is inconsistent with the Drug Control Act's general purpose to deal more effectively "with the growing menace of drug abuse in the United States."  Holding that this term introduces a requirement of positive knowledge would make deliberate ignorance a defense. It cannot be doubted that those who traffic in drugs would make the most of it. This is evident from the number of appellate decisions reflecting conscious avoidance of positive knowledge of the presence of contraband - in the car driven by the defendant or in which he is a passenger, in the suitcase or package he carries, in the parcel concealed in his clothing. 

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