You can be charged with drug possession if illegal substances are found in your vehicle, whether they belong to you or not. Even if you were unaware that the drugs were present, the police could still charge you. This is possible because of a legal concept called Constructive Possession. Remember, every case’s details are different, and an Orange County criminal defense attorney can help guide you. Drug laws can be complicated, especially constructive possession laws.
Constructive possession means you have control over the location where the illegal substance was found, even if they were not on your person. So, if drugs were found in your vehicle, in your locker, at a desk or place of work, and you have control and access to the location where the drugs were found (for example, keys to the vehicle).
You do not need to be present on-site when the police apprehend the drugs for you to be charged with constructive possession. The prosecution must prove that you knew about the drugs or should have known about them and that you were able to control them and access them if you chose to do so.
If you were in the car with someone who has drugs, the prosecution can build their case based on (1) Is the vehicle yours or someone else’s? (2) Do you have control over the vehicle (i.e. keys?); (3) What is your relation to the person you were with?; (4) Did you know about the presence of the drugs, or were you unaware?.
For example, if the vehicle belongs to you and the person you were with is a spouse, the prosecution will have strong evidence to charge you with constructive possession. Additionally, since you and your spouse share the same vehicle, both can be charged with joint possession – the legal term for when two parties have constructive possession of drugs found in a shared space.
Another situation that may result in a constructive possession charge is when you have all the parts and pieces needed to manufacture an illegal substance, even if you do not have the actual substance on you. If police seize what is considered drug paraphernalia and find no drugs, you will likely be charged with constructive possession and drug manufacturing. If you are facing any of these complicated charges, you should call a drug crimes lawyer immediately.
What are the Penalties for Constructive Possession?
Penalties for constructive possession are equivalent to those for actual possession. Their severity will depend on whether this is an individual’s first offense and on the amount and type of drugs apprehended. Constructive possession can result in a criminal charge or a misdemeanor charge.
A conviction for simple drug possession can result in a $1000 fine and up to one year in jail. Most first-time offenders are charged with a misdemeanor. However, suppose the police found evidence that the drugs under your possession were meant for distribution. In that case, you will likely be charged with a criminal offense for transporting and selling controlled substances, resulting in harsher penalties including 3 to 9 years in county jail and a fine of up to $20,000.00.
California’s Proposition 47 encourages courts to assign substance abuse treatments instead of jail time for drug possession crimes. With a few exceptions (such as registered sex offenders and individuals with prior convictions or charged with violent crimes such as murder), first-time offenders charged with a misdemeanor might be given a diversion sentence to undergo treatment redeem themselves. Offenders are able to have their sentencing date delayed while they complete drug treatment, and report back to court once treatment is completed and other requirements are fulfilled. The court may then dismiss the case and drop any drug charges.
How Can I Fight a Constructive Possession Charge?
Constructive possession is a broad concept that leaves the prosecution with the task of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If a suspect was found alone in the location where the drugs were seized, it would be easier for the prosecution to prove constructive possession, as opposed to when the substance was found in a location shared by more than one person.
A criminal defense attorney has a few different avenues to explore to build a defense strategy against constructive drug possession charges. The first option is to question whether the search was conducted lawfully and whether the police had enough probable cause to search the vehicle or location. Suppose the attorney is able to demonstrate that the defendant’s rights against unlawful search and seizure were not respected. In that case, he or she can file a motion in court demanding that all resulting evidence from the illegal search be deemed ineligible and suppressed from the court. Without evidence from the police search, the prosecution cannot support their accusations and will likely dismiss the charges.
Suppose you were charged with constructive possession while riding as a passenger in someone else’s vehicle, and the driver was carrying drugs. In that case, another possible defense strategy is to persuade the court that you were unaware of the presence of drugs in the vehicle. This might be easier to prove if the driver states that all passengers were indeed riding the vehicle without knowing they were in the presence of illegal substances. Suppose you were riding in the car with someone else and both of you were aware of the drugs in the vehicle. In that case, this defense strategy will not work, because knowing you are traveling with someone who is transporting illegal drugs is never acceptable before a judge.
Constructive possession charges can be tricky to navigate and there are many legal intricacies involved with building a defense strategy. A seasoned criminal defense attorney will be able to analyze every circumstance surrounding your arrest and challenge every piece of evidence in court to minimize charges or get a better outcome for your case. If you have been charged with a drug crime, contact the attorneys at SoCal Law Network for a free consultation by calling (949) 305 7995.