This is a common outcome when an officer has pulled over a car with two or more occupants and finds a joint or other type of controlled substance. Often, the drug in question will not physically be on a person but placed on the floorboard of the car. If no one admits to owning the drug, then the officer is left with the option of either not issuing a ticket to anyone or issuing a ticket for possession to every person in the car. The earlier results in a person getting away with breaking the law, while the latter places the blame on everyone.
But how can an officer do this? And how can a prosecutor proceed against all defendants for possession of only one joint?
To understand how two or more people can be all be charged with possession of the same joint you first need to look to the development of the meaning of 'possession' as it relates to criminal offense.
In order to show that someone was in possession of contraband, the State must prove that the Defendant had both conscious and intentional possession of the contraband as well as knowledge of its existence and of what it was. These two related elements, possession and knowledge, can be proven using circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial Evidence merely means that evidence which is offered by the State that does not directly prove a fact but rather allows one to infer the fact.
Possession of drugs can be shown to exist in one of two ways: either by actual possession or constructive possession. Actual possession simply means the person accused of possessing the drugs actually physically has the drugs on them or they are within their easy reach and control. Constructive possession, on the other hand, means that the drugs are not physically on them but the Defendant has access and control over where the drugs are located.
For example, if you are driving your friend's car with a duffel bag of marijuana in the trunk and you are the only person in the car, then you will have constructive possession of the marijuana. This is because you, being the sole occupant of the vehicle, have control and access to the location of the drugs, i.e. the trunk of the car.
"Defendant's exclusive control of the premises is enough to raise an inference of the possession and control of the substance." - State v. Purlee.
Your knowledge of the marijuana and of its nature can be inferred from the mere fact that you were in exclusive control of the car where the marijuana was found, just as it can be inferred from your having a bag of marijuana in your front pocket.
What if you neither have sole possession and control of the car, and the drugs are not found on you? In these cases, the State can prove possession using the theory of 'joint possession'. Joint Possession is proven by first showing that you know of the drugs and what they are, and that you had control over the drugs and easy access to them. An additional step is required, however, to connect you to the drugs when others are present.
"In cases involving joint control of an automobile, 'a defendant is deemed to have both knowledge and control of items discovered within the automobile, and, therefore, possession in the legal sense, where there is additional evidence connecting him with the items.'" State v. Stover (quoting State v. Woods)
This additional evidence again can be circumstantial. If the no one has claimed possession to the drugs found on the floorboard, then a jury could infer that you were in possession and control of the drugs due to the ease with which you could have asserted such possession and control. If the drugs were located in a suitcase in the trunk, then there would need to be something else in the trunk to tie you to it if you were neither the owner nor the driver. For example, if your ID was also in the suitcase, then that would suffice.
When you are traveling or hanging out with others who happen to be carrying or using drugs, you need to be aware that you can also be held liable for possession. Depending on the nature and amount of the drugs, you could be facing Misdemeanor or Felony Drug charges. If you are arrested for possession, you need to call a Defense Attorney now. Contact Anthony Bretz to protect your rights.