With no evidence Defendant knew he possessed drugs, the conviction is thrown out
In U.S. v. Louise, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was tipped off that the Ana Celia, a coastal freighter used to export goods from the United States to Haiti, was returning from Haiti to Miami carrying narcotic drugs. While the boat was docked in the Miami port, CBP agents set up surveillance of the boat. At one point the agents watched as a forklift picked up boxes from the boat and that were driven off the boat. The owner of the boat, Ernso Borgella, directed the forklift driver to place on the dock. Later a Nissan car which pulled up and Borgella told the driver to pull the car to park near the boxes. Two unidentified men loaded the boxes into the back seat of a white Nissan and Louis began to drive slowly out of the shipyard while Bogella walked alongside. After driving past the front gate of the shipyard the Nissan was stopped by law enforcement vehicles with lights and sirens. Louis exited the car and began to run. The agents found that the boxes in the back seat contained 111 bricks of cocaine.
Louis was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and with possession of cocaine. After a two-day federal criminal trial the jury found Louis guilty on both counts and the district court denied his motion for an acquittal. In this appeal Louis challenged his conviction arguing that the court should have found the evidence was insufficient to find he conspired to distribute drugs.
To convict Louis of this conspiracy the government had to prove that he had knowledge that his alleged crime involved a controlled substance. The appellate court concluded that no reasonable jury could find that the little evidence presented during the two day trial proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Louis knew the boxes placed in his care contained a controlled substance. Because the evidence did not prove that Luis knew that the boxes contained a controlled substance, the evidence does not prove that he knowingly joined a conspiracy to possess a controlled substance.
The jury trial produced evidence that Louis was seen around the shipyard where he worked and the government relied heavily on evidence that Louis fled when suddenly surrounded by law enforcement. The government’s case was built upon inferences from Louis’ presence and his flight. However, the government presented no evidence that Louis knew that there was a controlled substance – as opposed to any other contraband – within the sealed boxes places by others in his back seat.
While the appellate court recognized the cases that state that evidence of flight is admissible to demonstrate guilt, Louis’s flight might be persuasive evidence that he knew the boxes contained illegal contraband. But the evidence is not enough to prove that Louis knew the boxes contained a controlled substance. His presence and interactions in the shipyard were not enough evidence of knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt of the drugs. There was no evidence of any conversations where he was informed of a plan to possess a controlled substance while the boat was in Miami. This federal criminal trial court in Miami should have found that government did not prove Louis had knowledge of every element of this federal drug conspiracy.