Utah v. Salas – Case Brief Summary (Utah)

In Utah v. Salas, 820 P.2d 1386 (Utah Ct. App. 1991), the Court of Appeals of Utah held that there was not a sufficient nexus between Salas, the driver and owner of a car, and cocaine found under the back seat of his car where a passenger had been sitting. See Salas, 820 P.2d 1386 at 1387.

One of the officers who stopped Salas testified that the backseat passenger had moved from behind the driver just before the vehicle had been stopped.

The Court also required independent evidence. "In order to find that the accused was in possession of drugs found in an automobile he was not the sole occupant of, and did not have sole access to, there must be other evidence to buttress such an inference." Salas, 820 P.2d 1386 at 1388.

The court observed that, "'in finding constructive possession of controlled substances in nonexclusive occupancy settings, courts have relied on extensive and detailed factual evidence.'" Salas. 820 P.2d 1386 at 1389.

Considering that Salas' wife was a co-owner of the vehicle and that one of the passengers had better access to the spot where the cocaine was found than did Salas, the court found the evidence "inconclusive as to whether defendant knew of or possessed the cocaine." Id.

The court also noted that a passenger had moved "in a furtive manner just before the traffic stop," and that there was no evidence that Salas had carried a package to his vehicle, had been in or reached to the back seat, had talked suspiciously with the other passengers, or had behaved suspiciously in any way.See id.