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Lack of Criminal Intent: Missouri Supreme Acquits on Drug Possession Charge

by Suzanne Bring

The Missouri Supreme Court held that there was insufficient evidence to convict the defendant of possession of meth because her mere presence at a residence in which meth was discovered, without more, does not constitute actual or constructive knowledge of its presence.

In October 2014, the St. Clair County, Missouri sheriff’s office arrived at the residence of Josh Foley and Ashley Mitchell to serve an arrest warrant for Foley for illegal drug activity. Vicki Gilmore, Foley’s girlfriend, was present at the residence at the time. Officers subsequently obtained a search warrant for the residence and found a small bag of white powder in the bathroom. A lab analysis confirmed the powder was methamphetamine.

Officers found no evidence that Gilmore shared the residence with Foley. The detective who had conducted the search testified at trial that he found no female clothes in the residence, no personal items belonging to Gilmore other than her purse, and no mail in her name at the residence. Furthermore, the meth was not in plain view; instead, it was hidden on the third shelf of the medicine cabinet. Nevertheless, Gilmore was charged with possession of methamphetamine.

At trial, Gilmore filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, arguing that the State had failed to make a submissible case based on her having had no knowledge or possession of the methamphetamine. The court denied the motion, and Gilmore was convicted. She appealed to the Supreme Court of Missouri, which reversed and acquitted Gilmore.

The Court began its analysis by citing the general rule of law that a criminal offence consists of both a guilty act and guilty mind, which together make the act criminal. State v. Roberts, 948 S.W.2d 577 (Mo. 1997). To be guilty of possession of a controlled substance, the defendant must have had knowledge of the presence of the controlled substance in order to possess it for purposes of the statute. State v. Clark, 490 S.W.3d 704 (Mo. 2016). The Court explained that the “dispositive question in this case is whether there was sufficient evidence to prove” that Gilmore “actually knew or was aware of the methamphetamine found in the bathroom medicine cabinet.”

The Court determined the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gilmore had the necessary intent or guilty mind for a possession conviction. The meth was out of view in a closed bathroom cabinet, and Gilmore was not observed in the bathroom. Also, because no clothing, mail, or personal items (other than a purse) belonging to Gilmore were found at Foley’s residence, there was insufficient evidence that she either resided or stayed there. Therefore, the Court concluded, it cannot be shown beyond a “reasonable doubt” that she knew of the meth’s presence. 

Since the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gilmore knew or was aware of the presence of meth inside the medicine cabinet, there was insufficient evidence to convict her for possession of a controlled substance. Further, the Court said that it may not “give the [State] the benefit of unreasonable, speculative or forced inferences,” such as speculation that Gilmore lived or stayed at the residence where the illegal substance was found. State v. Whalen, 49 S.W. 3d 181, 184 (Mo. 2001). Without sufficient evidence that Gilmore lived or stayed at Foley’s residence, it cannot be proven that she knew of, had power over, or possessed the illegal substance.

Accordingly, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously entered judgment of acquittal. See: Missouri v. Gilmore, 2018 Mo. LEXIS 4 (2018). 

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