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Understanding constructive possession

On Behalf of | Jul 19, 2019 | criminal law | 0 comments

If Pennsylvania law enforcement officers charge you with some kind of drug crime, the prosecutor naturally must prove to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the drugs recovered by the officers at the scene belonged to you before (s)he can convict you of any related drug crime. Proving your actual possession of the drugs becomes easy if an officer gives credible testimony that (s)he recovered them from somewhere on your person, such as from one of your pockets.

Even if such was not the case, the prosecutor can still prove you owned or controlled the drugs via something called constructive possession. In this situation, however, (s)he has only circumstantial evidence on which to rely. In other words, since the officer did not recover the drugs from your actual person, the prosecutor must rely on the officer’s testimony as to the circumstances surrounding the recovery of the drugs. If those circumstances are strong enough, the jury can reasonably infer that you owned, or at least controlled, the drugs.

Constructive possession scenario

Proving constructive possession can be a tricky undertaking. For instance, consider the following situation:

  • An officer pulls you over for an alleged traffic violation while you and three passengers are riding in your car.
  • After establishing from your vehicle registration that you own the car, the officer asks you if she can search it.
  • Since you do not think you did anything wrong, you give her permission to search.
  • When she gets to your unlocked glove compartment, she opens it and discovers illegal drugs inside it, much to your surprise and horror.

Under the above circumstances, as bad as they may look at first with regard to your guilt, the jury cannot reasonably infer that you either owned or controlled the drugs, and therefore the prosecutor cannot convict you of any drug crime. Why? Because who actually owned the drugs represents an open question that no one can answer. After all, you and all three of your passengers had equal access to your unlocked glove compartment. In addition, you and all three of your passengers had equal opportunity to place the drugs inside it. Therefore, any one of you could have owned and hidden the drugs.

Despite the favorable outcome in the above constructive possession scenario, your best interests dictate that you never give a law enforcement officer permission to search your car without a warrant. The same applies to your home, your garage, your yard, your business or anywhere else.