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Name: U.S. v. Esquivel-Ortega
Case #: 05-30355
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/08/2007

A passenger in a vehicle is not guilty of possession of contraband found in the vehicle unless there is evidence, other than his presence, connecting him with the contraband. Mere proximity to the contraband does not establish knowing possession. To establish possession, it must be shown that defendant had the power to exercise dominion and control over the contraband. A conviction for conspiracy requires proof that a conspiracy exists along with the defendant’s knowing participation in it, which can be established by a slight connection. In this case, the government, investigating a drug conspiracy, intercepted calls on a telephone belonging to Sanchez and learned that a van containing drugs would be delivered to Sanchez’s home. They stopped a suspect vehicle in which Esquivel was a passenger. During the stop, a call was made from the monitored telephone to a phone in the van. When told that the van would be impounded, Esquivel became upset and started to cry. The van was impounded and a quantity of cocaine was found in a hidden compartment. This evidence was insufficient to establish that Esquivel knew the drugs were present or that he participated in the conspiracy.