State v. Galaviz-Torres, 368 N.C. 44 (Jun. 11, 2015)

Reversing an unpublished opinion below in this drug trafficking case, the supreme court held that the trial court did not err in its jury instructions regarding the defendant’s knowledge. The court noted that “[a] presumption that the defendant has the required guilty knowledge exists” when “the State makes a prima facie showing that the defendant has committed a crime, such as trafficking by possession, trafficking by transportation, or possession with the intent to sell or deliver, that lacks a specific intent element.” However, the court continued: “when the defendant denies having knowledge of the controlled substance that he has been charged with possessing or transporting, the existence of the requisite guilty knowledge becomes ‘a determinative issue of fact’ about which the trial court must instruct the jury.” As a result of these rules, footnote 4 to N.C.P.I. Crim. 260.17 (and parallel footnotes in related instructions) states that, “[i]f the defendant contends that he did not know the true identity of what he possessed,” the italicized language must be added to the jury instructions:

For you to find the defendant guilty of this offense the State must prove two things beyond a reasonable


          First, that the defendant knowingly possessed cocaine and the defendant knew that what he possessed was cocaine. A person possesses cocaine if he is aware of its presence and has (either by himself or together with others) both the power and intent to control the disposition or use of that substance.

The defendant argued that the trial court erred by failing to add the “footnote four” language to the jury instructions. The supreme court disagreed, reasoning:

In this case, defendant did not either deny knowledge of the contents of the gift bag in which the cocaine was found or admit that he possessed a particular substance while denying any knowledge of the substance’s identity. Instead, defendant simply denied having had any knowledge that the van that he was driving contained either the gift bag or cocaine. As a result, since defendant did not “contend[ ] that he did not know the true identity of what he possessed,” the prerequisite for giving the instruction in question simply did not exist in this case. As a result, the trial court did not err by failing to deliver the additional instruction contained in footnote four . . . in this case. (citation omitted).

The court went on to distinguish the case before it from State v. Coleman, 227 N.C. App. 354 (2013).