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Knowing Possession: Court of Appeals Says That Exercise Of Dominion And Control Equals Knowing Possession


appeals convictions knowing possession of a forged instrument

People v. Muhammad

16 NY3d 184

New York Court of Appeals

Decided on: February 17, 2011

Court of Appeals: Physical Possession And Exercise Of Dominion And Control  Is Knowing Possession 

Summary: Police stopped Defendant in his car. When asked for his driver’s license, he gave inconsistent responses and was eventually frisked. The Police found a wallet containing a North Carolina ID card. They found that Defendant’s New York license had been suspended. The Officers searched the car and discovered two fake credit cards, as well as a number of documents belonging to the Defendant. He was charged with two counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second-degree.

At trial, the Judge instructed the jury in accordance with Penal Law § 170.27 and stated that, if the People prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant possessed two or more forged instruments that purport to be credit cards, they may infer, but are not required to infer from that fact, that the Defendant knowingly possessed them with knowledge that they were forged and with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another. The jury subsequently found Defendant guilty and the Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal.

On Appeal, Defendant argues that the jury charge failed to convey that knowing possession of the credit cards was required. The Court of Appeals held that a reasonable juror, hearing the whole charge, would have understood that Penal Law § 170.27 applies when the person knowingly possess the cards. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Appellate Division’s orders.

See Also: Closing Arguments: Trial Court Has The Authority To limit Defense Counsel’s Arguments At Closing.

Issue: Whether Defendant knowingly possessed the forged instruments under Penal Law § 170.25 when the instruments were not found directly on his person but in his vehicle.

Holding: The Court of Appeals held that the Defendant was guilty of knowingly possessing forged credit cards. A person is guilty of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second-degree when, with knowledge that it is forged and with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, he utters or posses a forged instrument, Penal Law § 170.25.

Knowing possession of tangible property may be inferred from evidence showing that Defendant has the property in his physical possession, or that he exercised dominion or control over the property by a sufficient level of control over the area in which the property is found, or over the person from whom the property is seized, People v. Manini, 70 NY2d 561, 573 1992.

Facts: Police stopped Defendant in his car. When asked for his driver’s license, he gave inconsistent responses and was eventually frisked. The officer found a wallet containing a North Carolina ID card to look up Defendant’s history and found that Defendant’s New York license had been suspended. The Officer searched the car and discovered two fake credit cards, as well as a number of documents belonging to the Defendant. He was charged with two counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second-degree.

At trial, the Judge instructed the jury that to possess means to have actual physical possession or to exert a knowing dominion or control over. The Judge further instructed the jury in accordance with Penal Law § 170.27 that if the People prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant possessed two or more forged instruments that purport to be credit cards, they may infer, but are not required to infer from that fact that Defendant knowingly possessed them with knowledge that they were forged and with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another. The jury subsequently found Defendant guilty and the Appellate Division affirmed and the Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal.

Legal Analysis: The Court of Appeals held that the Defendant was guilty of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second-degree under Penal Law §170.25. A person is guilty of criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second-degree when, with knowledge that it is forged and with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, he utters or posses a forged instrument.

A possession within the meaning of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument statute must involve awareness of the possession. Knowing possession of tangible property may be inferred from evidence showing that Defendant has the property in his physical possession, or that he exercised dominion or control over the property by a sufficient level of control over the area in which the property is found, or over the person from whom the property is seized, People v. Manini, 70 NY2d 561, 573 1992.

      In this case, the Defendant had dispersed his belongings through the car he was driving which proved that he must of have known the credit cards were in there. The proximity of the cards reasonably infer that they were Defendant’s property. The Defendant argues that the jury charge failed to convey that knowing possession of the credit cards was required. However, the Court of Appeals held that the lower court’s charge to the jury was properly conveyed. It held that, if the People have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant possessed two or more forged instruments that purport to be credit cards, the People may infer, but are not required to infer from that fact, that the Defendant possessed them with knowledge that they were forged and with intent to defraud, deceive or injure another, Penal Law § 170.27.

A reasonable juror, hearing the whole charge, would have understood that the Penal Law § 170.27 presumption, that a person who possesses two or more forged instruments purporting to be credit or debit cards knows that they are forged and intends to defraud, deceive or injure another only applied if the person knowingly possesses the cards. The Court of Appeals Affirmed the Appellate Division’s order.


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