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COA reverses drug conviction due to lack of intent

October 31, 2013

The state did not have sufficient evidence to convict a man of possession of cocaine under the intent prong of constructive possession, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Thursday. As a result, the judges reversed the defendant’s drug conviction.

In Michael R. Houston v. State of Indiana, 02A03-1303-CR-84, police pulled over a car Michael Houston was driving, which contained three passengers. Houston was not the owner of the car and did not have a valid license. The license plate belonged to a different car, so police towed the car. While inventorying the vehicle, police found cocaine in a baggie between the passenger seat and the center console area. A vial was also found in the center console area, which Houston claimed was urine. The owner of the car, who was in the back seat at the time of the stop, said it was “anointing oil” used by his church.

Houston was charged with and convicted of Class D felony possession of cocaine. Because Houston didn’t have direct physical control over the drug in the car, the state had to prove constructive possession of it. But the evidence presented by the state couldn’t support that Houston had the intent to maintain dominion and control over the drug, the Court of Appeals held. No evidence was introduced that Houston knew about the drug, he did not attempt to flee, and he denied presence of the drug in the car.

The state argued that Houston’s knowledge of the vial in the center console shows he knew of the drug in the car, but there was no evidence showing the vial was connected to the cocaine in any way, the judges ruled.
 

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