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Can I Be Convicted of “Intent to Distribute” Drugs Even If the Police Never Found Drugs on Me?

Although most simple drug charges are handled at the state level, federal prosecutors may get involved when there is evidence a particular defendant possessed controlled substances–including marijuana–with the “intent to distribute” the drugs. Note that prosecutors do not need to actually prove the defendant sold or distributed marijuana. The law only requires the government to prove the defendant “knowingly possessed” marijuana with the “intent” to distribute. And a jury is allowed to infer “intent” from circumstantial evidence.

Mexican National Convicted Based on Shoes, Proximity to Drug-Filled Backpacks

Here is an example of what we are talking about. In a recent case, United States v. Vinagre-Hernandez, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction of a man charged with “aiding and abetting the possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.” This case began with a border patrol agent in the West Texas desert spotted six individuals “carrying backpacks that appeared to be over half their body size.”

The border patrol managed to track down one of the men, who was found with all of the backpacks, which contained over 300 pounds of marijuana. Agents subsequently located a second man–the defendant in this case–about a mile away. He did not have any marijuana on his person at the time of his arrest.

Nevertheless, at trial the man caught with the backpacks testified the defendant was part of his group. All six men wore the same type of boots, apparently to identify them as part of the group. The witness said the group was tasked with carrying the backpacks from Mexico into the United States, but they “did not know they were filled with marijuana.”

The defendant also testified at trial. He denied ever meeting the witness prior to their arrest. He said he was traveling from Mexico to Salt Lake City, a “guide” he was traveling with bought the boots for him. But the defendant said he was never part of any group or gang.

The jury did not believe the defendant’s account and found him guilty. On appeal, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence against him. But the Fifth Circuit said the circumstantial evidence was more than enough to support the jury’s verdict.

The appeals court credited the border agent’s testimony that all six men he initially identified were wearing the same boots. Although these particular boots “are not necessarily only worn by those trafficking drugs,” the Fifth Circuit observed, it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that “it would be very unusual for an entire group of people travelling together without narcotics to all be wearing the same fine line shoes.”

More to the point, the agent testified six people were “carrying large backpacks,” including the defendant. Given the size and weight of the backpacks, the “jury could reasonably infer that [the defendant] knew what was in the backpacks,” i.e. illegal drugs. This was sufficient to establish he possessed the drugs with intent to distribute, even though he was not arrested with the drugs on his person.

Speak with a Galveston or League City Drug Charges Lawyer Today

If you think you can just tell the police “these are not my drugs” and expect to avoid a criminal charge, think again. You can face serious jail time even if the evidence is circumstantial or less than clear. Your best bet to avoid a conviction is therefore to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer who specializes in drug charges. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need immediate assistance. Call (281) 280-0100 .