United States v. Jewell

532 F.2d 697 (1976)

Quick Summary

Quick Summary Icon

Charles Demore Jewell (defendant) faced charges for transporting marijuana into the United States. The dispute centered on whether Jewell’s deliberate avoidance of confirming the drugs’ presence met the legal standard for ‘knowledge.’

The appellate court held that such ‘deliberate ignorance’ did indeed fulfill the statutory requirement for knowledge. Consequently, Jewell’s conviction was upheld.

Facts of the Case

Facts of the case Icon

Charles Demore Jewell (defendant) was apprehended while transporting a substantial quantity of marijuana, concealed in a secret compartment of a vehicle, from Mexico into the United States. Despite Jewell’s assertion that he was unaware of the drugs, evidence suggested he was conscious of the secret compartment and its likely illegal contents.

However, Jewell contended he deliberately avoided confirming the presence of marijuana to escape liability if caught. The trial court denied Jewell’s request for jury instruction that would require his ‘absolute, positive’ knowledge of the marijuana for conviction. Jewell appealed this decision, challenging the sufficiency of the ‘deliberate ignorance’ standard applied by the trial court.

Procedural Posture and History

History Icon
  1. Jewell was convicted in a lower court for knowingly transporting marijuana from Mexico to the United States.
  2. Jewell contended that the jury instruction on ‘deliberate ignorance’ was insufficient for a conviction and appealed the decision.

I.R.A.C. Format


Issue Icon

Whether ‘deliberate ignorance’ of the presence of a controlled substance in a vehicle constitutes ‘knowledge’ sufficient for conviction under 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) and 960(a)(1).

Rule of Law

Rule Icon

The possession of a controlled substance is only criminal if done knowingly, which includes deliberate ignorance or avoidance of fact, as well as positive knowledge.

Reasoning and Analysis

Reasoning Icon

The appellate court examined whether the concept of ‘deliberate ignorance’ is equivalent to the statutory requirement of ‘knowledge.’ The court determined that deliberate ignorance, where a person is conscious of a high probability of an illegal act but consciously avoids confirming that fact, is legally tantamount to actual knowledge.

This interpretation aligns with legal commentary and precedents, underscoring that both deliberate ignorance and positive knowledge are culpable under the law.

Furthermore, this understanding is consistent with the purpose of the Drug Control Act to effectively tackle drug abuse. The court found that requiring positive knowledge would undermine law enforcement by allowing individuals to evade responsibility through willful blindness.


Conclusion Icon

The conviction was affirmed, establishing that ‘deliberate ignorance’ satisfies the requirement of knowledge necessary for conviction under drug trafficking laws.

Dissenting Opinions

Judge Icon

Judge Kennedy, joined by Judges Ely, Hufstedler, and Wallace, dissented. They argued that the ‘conscious purpose to avoid learning the truth’ instruction did not meet the required legal standard of knowledge. They contended that this instruction could lead to a conviction without actual knowledge of the controlled substance, which is inconsistent with the statutory requirement.

Key Takeaways

Takeaway Icon
  1. ‘Deliberate ignorance’ is equivalent to actual knowledge in the context of drug trafficking laws.
  2. A requirement for positive knowledge would enable individuals to evade criminal responsibility through willful blindness.
  3. The appellate court’s decision aligns with existing legal commentary and precedent, reinforcing that both deliberate ignorance and positive knowledge carry culpability.

Relevant FAQs of this case

What legal implications arise when a person acts with willful blindness towards the illegality of their actions?

Willful blindness, or deliberate ignorance, can have the same legal consequences as actual knowledge of the illegal act. In situations where a person suspects wrongdoing but deliberately avoids confirming the facts, the law treats this intentional ignorance as equivalent to having actual knowledge. In essence, one cannot evade legal responsibility by choosing to remain unaware of something that is highly likely to be true.

  • For example: A person who receives packages to their home address for a commission, suspecting but never confirming they contain stolen goods, can be held legally accountable under theories of willful blindness when those packages are indeed found to contain contraband.

How does the concept of 'deliberate ignorance' fit into establishing mens rea in criminal cases?

‘Deliberate ignorance’ is used to satisfy the mens rea or “guilty mind” requirement for certain crimes, particularly when someone purposely avoids knowledge to escape liability. The rationale is that one who avoids learning a relevant fact out of suspicion is morally and legally akin to one who has actual knowledge.

  • For example: A financial broker who does not verify the source of large sums of money deposited into accounts under their management, suspecting but avoiding confirmation of money laundering activities, may be deemed to have met the mens rea for complicity in laundering.

In what ways can criminal statutes ensure that deliberate ignorance does not shield individuals from liability?

Criminal statutes can explicitly include provisions that define willful blindness or deliberate ignorance as sufficient for meeting the knowledge requirement. By crafting legislation that captures conduct involving intentional avoidance of fact-finding, lawmakers prevent individuals from claiming ignorance as a defense when they had a strong suspicion and a reasonable opportunity to learn the truth.

  • For example: An art dealer who frequently purchases artifacts at prices significantly below market value, without inquiring about provenance, may face charges under statutes penalizing the possession of stolen cultural property if those items are indeed stolen and due diligence was neglected.


Last updated

Was this case brief helpful?

More Case Briefs in Criminal Law