Should Guilty Knowledge of the Defendant Be Proven by State to Establish Constructive Possession ?
In Chicone v. State, 684 So. 2d 736 (Fla. 1996) the trial court denied Chicone's request to instruct the jury that a charge of possession of cocaine required the State to prove that the defendant knew the substance he possessed was cocaine.
On review, this Court held that "guilty knowledge is part of the statutory offense charged." Id. at 738.
In a lengthy opinion, the Court first rejected the argument that Medlin stood for the proposition that guilty knowledge is not an element of possession, stating:
We held in Medlin . . . that the State established a prima facie case and sufficient proof that the "defendant was aware of the nature of the drug" to get the case to the jury.
That's a far cry from holding that guilty knowledge is unnecessary. . . . Medlin stands for the proposition that evidence of actual, personal possession is enough to sustain a conviction. Id. at 739.
In State v. Oxx, 417 So. 2d 287 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982), the court acknowledged that the relevant statutes did not expressly require "knowing" possession of a controlled substance but concluded that the State must still prove general intent.
The Court also reviewed and rejected a principle of statutory construction that the Legislature need not require proof of intent in codifying crimes mala prohibita.
The Court then concluded that the relevant statutes "are more akin to offenses that presume a scienter requirement" because of the substantial criminal penalties imposed, Chicone v. State, 684 So. 2d at 742-43, and held:
We believe it was the intent of the legislature to prohibit the knowing possession of illicit items and to prevent persons from doing so by attaching a substantial criminal penalty to such conduct.
Thus, we hold that the State was required to prove that Chicone knew of the illicit nature of the items in his possession. Id. at 744.
The Court further wrote, "While the existing jury instructions are adequate in requiring 'knowledge of the presence of the substance,' we agree that, if specially requested by a defendant, the trial court should expressly indicate to jurors that guilty knowledge means the defendant must have knowledge of the illicit nature of the substance allegedly possessed." Id. at 745-46.
In conclusion, the Court held that the trial court erred in denying Chicone's request and, without engaging in harmless error analysis, remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.
In a final footnote to Chicone, the Court suggested its holding was an appropriate subject to be addressed by the Committee on Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases. Id. at 746 n.14.
Later, in In re Standard Jury Instructions in Criminal Cases (97-1), 697 So. 2d 84, 85-87 (Fla. 1997), the Court adopted amendments proposed by that committee which inserted a fourth element of knowledge of the nature of the substance into the jury instructions on trafficking offenses and added the following language to the definition of "possession" within those instructions:
Give if applicable. See Chicone v. State, 684 So. 2d 736 (Fla. 1996).
If a thing is in a place over which the person does not have control, in order to establish constructive possession the State must prove the person's:
(1) control over the thing;
(2) knowledge that the thing was within the person's presence;
(3) knowledge of the illicit nature of the thing. Id. at 87.