There are many instances when law enforcement officers find illegal contraband, for example, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine or United States currency, in a vehicle occupied by more than one person. In most of these cases everyone is arrested and charged with possession of an illegal drug (or money laundering when currency is found). The question then becomes: Is a person guilty of possession simply by being present where illegal drugs are found? The answer: No.
Conviction for possession of illegal drugs requires proof that the defendant possessed the drugs knowingly or intentionally. Brown v. State, 911 S.W.2d 744, 747 (Tex.Cr.App. 1995 En Banc).
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has also held that: “To prove unlawful possession of a controlled substance, the State must prove that: (1) the accused exercised control, management, or care over the substance; and (2) the accused knew the matter possessed was contraband. Whether this evidence is direct or circumstantial, it must establish, to the requisite level of confidence, that the accused’s connection with the drug was more than just fortuitous. This is the whole of the so-called ‘affirmative links’ rule.” (Citations omitted). Poindexter v. State, 153 S.W.3d 402, 405-406 (Tex.Cr.App. 2005).
The mere presence at a place where contraband is being used or possessed by others does not justify finding that a person is in joint possession or is a party to an offense. When the accused is not in exclusive possession of the place where contraband is found, there must be additional independent facts and circumstances which affirmatively link the person to the contraband in such a way that it can be concluded that the accused had knowledge of the contraband and exercised control over it in order to convict the accused of possession of a controlled substance. Robinson v. State, 80 S.W.3d 730, 735 (Tex.App. – Houston [1st Dist.] 2002).
The “affirmative links rule” in a prosecution for possession of a controlled substance is designed to protect the innocent bystander from conviction based solely upon his fortuitous proximity to someone else’s drugs. Poindexter at 406.
Proof of an affirmative link between the accused and the contraband is needed to establish knowledge or intent to possess the contraband when the accused is not in exclusive possession of the place where the contraband is found. Robinson at 735.