When is a Car Passenger Not Guilty of Conspiracy to Commit a Drug Crime?


          In order to convict someone of conspiracy, a federal prosecutor has to prove:

          1.  That there was an agreement by two or more persons to commit a crime;

          2.  A defendant had knowledge of the agreement; and

          3.  The defendant voluntarily joined in the enterprise.

          When the defendant in an alleged drug conspiracy is located in an automobile that has drugs in it at the time of his arrest, it is not enough that he is merely present in the car; there must also be “circumstances evidencing a consciousness of guilt” on his part before he can be convicted of conspiracy.  Such circumstances include the fact that the defendant was:

          1.  Nervous;

          2.  Made conflicting statements to the police;

          3.  Told the police an implausible story;

          4.  Made untrue statements to the police;

          5.  Took steps to avoid police surveillance;

          6.  The defendant had made other, brief trips along the same drug route; and

          7.  He sought assistance in hiding the cocaine in his car.

          In the case of United States v. Stanley, Ms. Stanley was an automobile passenger and was ultimately convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine based on the following facts:

          “On December 12, 1991, police arrested Timothy Wayne Murray in Columbus, Georgia, on cocaine trafficking charges. Murray agreed to cooperate with police by assisting them in arresting his suppliers in Atlanta, Georgia.  At the direction of the police, Murray made a telephone call from the police department in Columbus to defendant Cameron in Atlanta. Murray telephoned Cameron’s pager number and left the telephone number of the telephone line used by the police to set up undercover drug deals.  At approximately 8:40 p.m. on December 12th, Cameron returned Murray’s telephone call, and the police tape-recorded the ensuing conversation between Cameron and Murray. During the course of this conversation, Cameron and Murray arranged a drug deal: Cameron agreed to drive down to Columbus that evening with three and one-half ounces of cocaine base, for which Murray agreed to pay $3,600.00. Cameron agreed to telephone Murray when he arrived at the Hardee’s Restaurant in Columbus.

          Several hours later, Cameron telephoned Murray from the Hardee’s Restaurant in Columbus.  An undercover police officer drove Murray to the Hardee’s Restaurant in an old pick-up truck. When they arrived at the Hardee’s, Murray saw Cameron across the street at the gas station, standing beside his car pumping gas. As he approached Cameron’s car, Murray saw two passengers in the car, a black female in the front passenger’s seat and a black male, identified as Powers, in the back seat.  Murray asked Cameron, “where the dope was,” and Powers responded, “You need to talk to me.”  Powers then got out of the car and he and Murray walked across the street to the Hardee’s Restaurant, discussing the drug deal as they walked. Powers and Murray then walked back across the street to the gas station and got into the back seat of Cameron’s car. Cameron sat in the driver’s seat. The woman was still in the front passenger’s seat.

          Cameron drove the car out of the gas station and across the street toward the back of the Hardee’s Restaurant, ostensibly so Murray could obtain money for the drug deal.  As Cameron drove across the street and around toward the back of the restaurant, police officers moved in to make the arrests.  The undercover police officer who had driven Murray to the scene stopped Cameron’s car by ramming it with the pick-up truck. Another officer observed Powers throw an automatic pistol out of the car.  After apprehending the occupants of Cameron’s car, the police officers searched the car and discovered cocaine base under the dashboard. The police arrested Cameron, Powers, and the woman in the front seat, identified as Stanley.  The arrests were made at approximately 2:00 a.m.  In a post-arrest statement, Cameron admitted ownership of the cocaine base discovered hidden under the dashboard.”

          Ms. Stanley appealed her conviction, and the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with her that the evidence was insufficient to indicate a consciousness of guilt on her part.  The appellate court therefore vacated her conviction and in doing so found the following facts to be particularly relevant:

          1.  There was no evidence regarding Stanley’s demeanor as well as no evidence that she made untrue, contradictory, or otherwise incriminating statements.

          2.  Murray, who set up the drug transaction, did not know Stanley.

          3.  Although Murray asked about the “dope” in Stanley’s presence, there was no evidence that she heard his statement or, if she did, whether she reacted to it.

          4.  Before discussing the drug deal, Powers and Murray moved away from the car, such that Stanley could not hear their discussion.

          5.  There was no evidence that the crack cocaine hidden under the dashboard was within Stanley’s reach.

          6.  Cameron admitted ownership of the cocaine without in any way implicating Stanley.

          7.  There was no evidence to tie Stanley to the unidentified, inaudible, female voice on the tape recording of Murray’s conversation with Cameron.

          8.  Cameron’s reference during that conversation to a “posse” could not implicate Stanley because Cameron indicated that he did not intend to bring the “posse” on the trip to Columbus.