Anyone who has ever gotten in trouble for having something they shouldn’t have knows that denial is often the simplest way to avoid responsibility. If your parents walked into the house and demanded to know who ate the last cookie, so long as you and your siblings all insisted it wasn’t you, it was possible that no one would get punished.
Some people apply the same strategy toward law enforcement interactions in motor vehicles. Sometimes, due to an individual traffic stop or an enforcement roadblock, multiple people in a vehicle wind up dealing with law enforcement who find something that shouldn’t have been in the car. Police may ask to search a vehicle because of a smell or the behavior of the people inside. If they find something illegal, they will likely want to arrest someone.
Whether it is an open bottle of alcohol or a small amount of illegal drugs, it is common for everyone to insist that the item does not belong to them. While that may work in some cases, the driver of the vehicle may be particularly vulnerable to potential charges because of what is known as constructive possession.
What is constructive possession?
Constructive possession is a somewhat confusing legal principle that allows the courts and law enforcement interpretive power when determining ownership or responsibility for the presence of illegal or prohibited items. Essentially, if law enforcement officers or the courts can establish that you should have reasonably known about the possession of something, you may get held responsible for it.
If you gave a ride to someone you know to have a continuing drug issue and law enforcement officers found drugs in your car, it would be reasonable for them to expect that you would know your friend would have drugs in their possession. Similarly, if you have a key for an apartment or a storage unit, you will likely know what is inside and could face legal consequences for illegal content.
A good attorney can push back on claims of constructive possession
Criminal charges can utterly change the course of your life, which is why many people fight back. Building a criminal defense strategy requires careful examination of the situation that resulted in criminal charges.
Sometimes, the strategy can be as straightforward as establishing an alibi for the time of the crime. Other times, a defense attorney may need to attack whether the assumption of constructive possession applies in your case. Maybe a reasonable person would not have assumed there was anything illegal going on.
If you find yourself facing legal charges for the possession of something that belongs to someone else, constructive possession may play a role in the prosecution’s case and also your defense strategy. The sooner you begin building that strategy, the better the chances you have of being successful.