Jewell crossed the border into
the US with a large amount of drugs in a secret compartment in his car.
Jewell claimed that it
wasn't his car, and he did not know that there were drugs hidden in it.
Jewell did admit knowing
that there was a secret compartment, but he willfully chose not to look
The Trial Court convicted
Jewell of drug possession. He appealed.
Jewell argued that without knowledge that there were drugs in the car, he was
lacking the mens rea
requirement for a conviction.
In general, mens rea requires that the defendant intended,
expected, or should have expected that their actions would produce a
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The Appellate Court found
that Jewell made a conscious purpose to disregard the nature of that
which was in the vehicle, with a conscious purpose to avoid learning the
The Court noted that in
order to prove willful blindness,
the prosecution must prove "beyond a reasonable doubt, that the
defendant was not actually aware and that his ignorance in that regard
was solely and entirely a result of a conscious purpose to avoid
learning the truth."
So, if a defendant can show
that they reasonably believed that there were no drugs in the package,
then cannot be found guilty. It is only if they go out of there way to
avoid learning the truth in an effort to avoid knowledge.
In a dissent it was
suggested that a someone who gets a wrapped birthday present while on a
trip has a conscious purpose to take it home without learning what is
inside. But his state of mind is totally innocent unless he is aware
with a high probability that the package contains drugs.
The Model Penal Code
§2.02(7) discusses the concept of willful
blindness, where a person purposely doesn't look because they
don't want to know. In that case, the person still has mens rea, and can be found guilty of a crime because
they are acting with reckless disregard.
Another way to think of it
is that in order to be guilty you have to have acted purposefully to commit a crime. If you are purposefully avoiding the knowledge, you are still acting purposefully.