Willful Blindness, What is It?
Many times a day throughout Florida, law enforcement officers stop a vehicle for no apparent reason, let alone for violating the traffic laws of this state, and end up searching the vehicle because the officer smelt “burning marijuana.” The search of the vehicle will end up yielding illegal narcotics, drugs, a weapon, or some other form of contraband and inevitably the driver of the vehicle will be handcuffed and taken to jail. Many times the driver will sit down with their criminal defense lawyer and say, “the drugs were not mine.” “I did not even know there were drugs in the car.” What the criminal defendant is actually saying is a valid defense in Florida; it is the defense of not having “knowledge and possession” which are the two key elements or ingredients that the prosecutor must prove to show the driver’s guilt.
The Florida courts have always reasoned that the State must prove in their prosecution of the criminal defendant for possession of narcotics, drugs or an illegal weapon; that he or she had possession over the contraband and that the defendant had knowledge of what the contraband actually is. State v. Cristodero, 426 So. 2d 977, 979 (Fla. 4th DCA 1982). But what happens when the driver is arrested and the drugs, narcotics or weapon is found in the back seat or on the floorboard under the passenger’s seat and other passengers are present?
The Courts have made a clear distinction and have reasoned that when “the area in which the contraband is found is within the defendant’s exclusive possession, his guilty knowledge of the presence of the contraband and his ability to maintain control over it may be inferred.” Williams v. State, 724 So. 2d 1214 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998). However, if the property where the contraband “is found is in joint rather than exclusive possession of the accused, then knowledge of the contraband’s presence and the ability to control it will not be inferred from the accused’s presence but must be established by independent proof.” See Williams. So, if the automobile that has been stopped and searched, which yields the contraband that leads to the driver’s arrest, in fact has additional passengers and the contraband is not found actually “on” the driver, then the driver may claim the defense that he or she did not have knowledge of what was located in the vehicle or that the driver did not possess what was found to be illegal.
The State may try to argue under the doctrine of willful blindness that the driver deliberately closed his or her eyes to knowing what was in the automobile and obvious to others. This is the doctrine of willful blindness or otherwise known as the Jewell charge. US v. Jewell, 532 F.2d 697 (9th Cir. Ct. Apps. 1976).
Under Jewell, the jury will be instructed that it could find the driver knew the substance, contraband or firearm found in the automobile was what it is reported to be, if the jury found from all the evidence that the defendant was aware of a high probability that the transaction involved cocaine and deliberately closed his eyes to what would otherwise have been obvious to him, or acted with a conscious purpose to avoid finding out the identity of the substance involved in the transaction. See also Andrews v. State, 536 So. 2d 1108 (4th DCA 1988). The Courts have warned though, that the Jewell instruction should only be given in rare instances and not in every case which a defendant, like the driver, claims lack of knowledge as to what something is or is not.
Remember, the State or prosecution must prove that the criminal defendant “knew” what the contraband was and that the defendant had “possession” over it before he or she can be convicted of a criminal offense like drug possession, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, trafficking in drugs and many other criminal cases throughout Florida. Hiring an experienced criminal lawyer who has successfully defended those at trial of Trafficking in Drugs, Possession of Drugs, Sales of Drugs, Firearm crimes, and many automobile crimes is the key to winning.
If you or a loved one has been arrested and need a criminal lawyer, contact West Palm Beach Criminal Defense, Attorney Andrew D. Stine. Palm Beach Criminal Attorney, Andrew D. Stine, has been successfully representing those in trial and throughout South Florida’s courtrooms for over a decade. When winning is what you expect, Hire Stine or Do the Time.