CORE CRIMINAL LAW SUBJECTS: Defenses: Innocent / Inadvertent Possession


United States v. Angone, 57 MJ 70 (an innocent possession defense to a military drug possession charge includes a defense based on inadvertent possession; this requires inadvertent possession (that the drugs had been "planted" or left in the accused’s possession without his knowledge of the drug), coupled with certain subsequent actions taken with an intent to immediately destroy the contraband or deliver it to law enforcement agents).

(returning contraband drugs to a prior possessor or owner will not entitle an accused to claim innocent possession; however, there is a single exception to this rule if a person inadvertently comes into possession of contraband and reasonably believes that he would be exposing himself to immediate physical danger unless he returned it to the prior possessor, then his possession and return of the property are innocent).

(there was no substantial basis to overturn appellant’s guilty plea for an innocent possession defense where: (1) appellant does not claim, nor do the facts of this case suggest, that the marijuana cigarette in question was planted in his medicine cabinet; (2) appellant admitted that he knowingly took possession of a contraband drug which he discovered unattended; (3) even assuming such possession be treated as inadvertent, appellant also admitted that he did not deliver the half-inch long marijuana cigarette to his command escorts, nor did he immediately destroy this contraband item; and (4) appellant did not maintain temporary possession of this contraband under the reasonable belief that he would be exposing himself to immediate physical danger if he did not return it to its prior possessor).

(appellant’s positive acts of seizing and attempting to conceal the contraband from available law enforcement personnel, where immediate physical harm was not threatened, did not constitute innocent possession

(appellant’s asserted intent to discard contraband in the future did not invalidate his guilty plea; his intent at the time of the seizure was to conceal the marijuana cigarette from his command escort to avoid being prosecuted for the unlawful possession of drugs).

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