Conviction tossed in 2007 drug arrest
Mesa County prosecutors vowed an appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court after a lower court threw out a conviction and prison sentence for a man arrested in a 2007 drug bust.
Roque Garcia-Castaneda, 28, may have won freedom following a ruling Thursday from the Colorado Court of Appeals, which nullified a local jury’s trial verdict. Garcia-Castaneda has been serving a 14-year sentence since he was found guilty at trial in December 2007, convicted of possession with intent to distribute and importation of cocaine. He was a passenger in a car that was stopped on Interstate 70 by Task Force officers on Feb. 23, 2007.
During a consensual search, officers found 13 pounds of cocaine packaged in a hidden compartment behind the dashboard, an arrest affidavit said.
Despite the jury’s verdict, a three-judge panel with the Court of Appeals found there wasn’t enough evidence to show Garcia-Castaneda was in possession of the drugs. “Mere presence” in the car, without other links to the drugs, isn’t enough, the court said.
When a drug-detecting dog alerted officers to the drugs, Garcia Castaneda and the driver took on a “defeated” posture, crouched down with elbows on their knees and heads bowed. That, prosecutors argued, was additional evidence proving possession.
The Court of Appeals disagreed.
“Verdicts in criminal cases may not be based on guessing, speculation or conjecture,” reads the court’s ruling. If the Colorado Supreme Court refuses to review the decision, Garcia-Castaneda will be released from prison.
“Our office stands by the Mesa County jury’s determination that the evidence was sufficient to find the defendant guilty,” Mesa County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubinstein said. An appeal to the state’s high court was in motion late last week.