- Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
- Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
- Date Filed: 03-02-2016
- Case #: 14-50355
- Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges Reinhardt and Paez
- Full Text Opinion
An FBI informant, Ana Montana, was sent to a bar to meet Defendant Rogelio Lemus. Montano told Lemus that she was looking for methamphetamine, to which Lemus responded that he had a pound for sale. Montano recorded a call to Lemus arranging for the sale. FBI agents followed Lemus to his home but did not conduct a traffic stop, obtain a search warrant, or see any drugs. Lemus refuted participation in drug trafficking but was convicted of violating 21 § U.S.C. 841(a)(1), which forbids possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. The jury found that Lemus possessed at least 50 grams of methamphetamine. The statute allows constructive possession, which means “the exercise of dominion and control,” which may be “demonstrated by direct or circumstantial evidence that the defendant had the power to dispose of the drug.” When the court reviews a conviction for sufficiency of evidence it will ask whether, after observing the evidence in a manner most positive to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt the necessary elements of the crime. The evidence at trial could have led a reasonable jury to determine that Lemus had a functioning relationship with people who had physical custody of the drugs and had a role in procurement or transportation of the drugs, thus he had constructive possession through the authority to dispose of them. The quantity only must be established by a preponderance of the evidence, but the evidence supporting approximation must have adequate indications of reliability to show probable accuracy. Since the government failed to include evidence regarding the purity level of the drugs no reasonable juror could have found that Lemus possessed more than 50 grams of methamphetamine. Thus, the Ninth Circuit held the drug quantity finding was grounded on inadequate evidence. AFFIRMED in part, VACATED in part.