When a defense lawyer tries a criminal possession case, the jury must be asked about the “intentional and knowing” element of a possession charge during voir dire.

The reason? Unknowingly possessing contraband is not criminal.

Dan Browning of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune wrote an article today about the acquittal of a computer consultant on possession of child pornography charges in Federal Court. (Hat Tip: CyberCrime)

There was never a dispute about whether the defendant possessed the computer, nor whether images of child pornography were found on the computer. The defense, however, hammered on the government’s inability to prove that the defendant knew that the images were on the computer, or intended them to be there:

Sarah Snider, the forewoman of the jury… said jurors examined the computer logs and discovered that Furukawa had downloaded thousands of files. The child porn files were "few and far between," she said. "It’s our belief he wasn’t looking for it."

DeAnn Roy, another juror, said no one disputed that the images were illegal child porn. "We just didn’t see proof that he knew, or that he willingly had that on his computer."

Good job done here by the defense lawyer Daniel Gerdts in properly focusing the jury on holding the government to its burden. Too often jurors believe that simply possessing something is a crime, without forcing the State to prove that the defendant knew he was in possession of something illegal.

[Also see my thoughts on Jury Selection and the Unwitting Possession Defense.]