In United States v. Reece, 86 F.3d 994 (10th Cir. 1996), the Tenth Circuit reversed Reece's conviction for possession with intent to distribute cocaine found on the person of a passenger in his car.
A large sum of money was found in the glove compartment. The passenger acknowledged ownership of the drugs and the money and stated that Reece had no knowledge of either.
In reversing Reece's conviction, the court identified the need for a nexus between the defendant and the contraband:
"Dominion, control and knowledge, in most cases, may be inferred if a defendant has exclusive possession of the premises." Where possession is not clear, such as when the contraband may be attributed to more than one individual, constructive possession requires some nexus, link, or other connection between the defendant and the contraband. The jury may draw reasonable inferences from direct or circumstantial evidence, yet an inference must amount to more than speculation or conjecture. Id. at 996.
The court observed that the only evidence that Reece knew of the contraband was a tape recorded conversation between Reece and his passenger, made in the back of a police vehicle after their arrests. The court pointed out, however, that, by the time that conversation occurred, Reece had seen the drugs after they had been taken from the passenger. The court reasoned that "the government's case is barren of evidence linking or demonstrating a nexus between Mr. Reece and the narcotics found on the passenger's person and therefore cannot sustain the conviction." Id.