United States v. Wright – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Wright, 24 F.3d 732 (5th Cir. 1994), the Fifth Circuit held that a sentencing court had insufficient evidence to sustain a finding, during sentencing, that Wright previously had possessed a firearm. The evidence relied on by the sentencing court was that Wright had operated a vehicle, had eluded the police, and had made "furtive movements near the glove box." Id. at 735.

The glove box in which the gun had been found was locked, however, and the passenger, who was the owner of the vehicle, had the key.

The Fifth Circuit explained:

We recognize that in other cases we have indicated that mere dominion over a vehicle in which a firearm is found can lead to an inference of constructive possession. But in those cases, we were not confronted with such overwhelming countervailing evidence. . . . While dominion over the vehicle certainly will help the government's case, it alone cannot establish constructive possession of a weapon found in the vehicle, particularly in the face of evidence that strongly suggests that somebody else exercised dominion and control over the weapon.

We stress that our holding is conditioned upon this countervailing evidence . . . The sentencing court probably would not have erred in finding that Wright constructively possessed the weapon if such countervailing evidence did not exist. Id.