Criminal Law, Pages 157–161

United States v. Jewell

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 1976


Defendant entered the US in a car with 110 pounds of marijuana hidden in a secret compartment between the back seat and the trunk. Defendant claimed that he did not know it was present. Testimony showed that that statement may have true, or that he may have known of the possibility but deliberately refused to look in it to avoid positive knowledge thereof.

Procedural History:

Trial court instructed the jury that "knowingly" meant voluntarily and intentionally and not by accident or mistake, even if he was ignorant because he had a conscious purpose to avoid learning the truth. Defendant was then convicted.


Is positive knowledge required to act knowingly?


To endorse this theory would mean that one could just close his eyes to avoid guilt of crimes, which would surely be abused. Willful ignorance is equivalent to knowledge throughout the criminal law.


Positive knowledge is not required to act knowingly, only an awareness of the high probability of the fact in question.



Dissenting Opinion:

Kennedy: Willful blindness is incorrectly biased towards visual means of acquiring knowledge. This has also not been considered to be "actual knowledge." It is also uncertain in scope and what test to use. Reckless disregard is not enough.

The Model Penal Code's definition does not mention the requirement that a defendant must be aware of a high probability of the fact. Nor did it say that defendant could not be convicted if he "actually believed" there was no controlled substance in the car. Third, it states that defendant could have been convicted even if found ignorant or "not actually aware," which is wrong as true ignorance can never provide a basis for criminal liability when knowledge is required.