State v. Coleman, 227 N.C. App. 354 (May. 21, 2013)

In a heroin trafficking case where the defendant argued that he did not know that the item he possessed was heroin, the trial court committed plain error by denying the defendant’s request for a jury instruction that the State must prove that the defendant knew that he possessed heroin (footnote 4 of the relevant trafficking instructions). The court noted that knowledge that one possesses contraband is presumed by the act of possession unless the defendant denies knowledge of possession and contests knowledge as disputed fact. It went on to reject the State’s argument that the defendant was not entitled to the instruction because he did not testify or present any evidence to raise the issue of knowledge as a disputed fact. The court noted that its case in chief the State presented evidence that the defendant told a detective that he did not know the container in his vehicle contained heroin; this constituted a contention by the defendant that he did not know the true identity of what he possessed, the critical issue in the case.