The Court of Appeals in a recent decision issued on December 19, 2013, James M. Schools v. US (12-CM-1448) reversed the conviction for unlawful possession of firearm and ammunition. Specifically, the jury had convicted the appellant Schools of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of an unregistered firearm, and unlawful possession of ammunition.

Factually, the defendant was found in the back room of a two bedroom apartment during a search warrant. The apartment was occupied by other individuals, and although the defendant was found in control and possession of the narcotics found, the weapon and ammunition was stowed in a dresser with cloths in the dresser not belonging to the appellant.

Schools sought reversal of his convictions on the ground that the evidence at trial was not sufficient to show that he had constructively possessed the gun and the ammunition. That is, the jury could not have concluded beyond reasonable doubt that he knew about the firearm and ammunition or that he ―had the requisite intent to exercise dominion and control over them.

The government argued that the appellant constructively possessed the gun and ammunition. Accordingly, the government was required to prove that he ―(1) knew of the presence of the weapon, (2) The power to exercise dominion and control over it, and (3) intended to exercise dominion and control over it. Essentially, Schools argued on appeal that no reasonable juror could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew about the weapon because “it was hidden from view, he made no movement toward it, and he gave no ―other indication that he knew what was tucked away under some clothes inside, ―much less that the other criteria for constructive possession were satisfied.”

As a matter of law, constructive possession may be proven by direct or circumstantial evidence. There must be however more than mere presence on the premises where the weapon is found or the proximity to it to satisfy the test for constructive possession of the contraband. There must be an added link that along with proximity and knowledge establishes that the accused meant to exercise dominion or control over it. The Court of Appeals in pertinent parts reasoned that “[w]e do not think that inferences that appellant (1) knew of the presence of the firearm and ammunition hidden beneath someone’s clothing in the drawer and (2) intended to exercise dominion and control over them are reasonable inferences from the limited evidence the government presented.

The prosecutor argued in closing that appellant ―knew where that gun was because ―[i]t was his dresser, his clothes in it and referred to ―that dresser where he keeps his things, his clothes, but there actually was no evidence presented that the dresser (or the closet in the back bedroom) contained clothing belonging to appellant.” The Court also noteworthy defined that “[r]easonable doubt is a doubt arising from the evidence, or from a lack of evidence, after consideration of all the evidence.”

Ultimately, considering the totality of the circumstances, others residing in the apartment and having the same access as the appellant, no articles of clothing or link was establish between the appellant and the dresser (there was no finger print evidence either), and even the wallet found in the back room did not belong to the appellant – all considered – there was insufficient evidence to establish that the appellant had constructive possession of the weapon and thus reversal was warranted.

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Categories: Criminal Defense.