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Can someone be charged with drug offenses over items in a vehicle?

by | Jun 15, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Many people who are accused of drug crimes in New York get arrested for actual possession. Stop-and-frisk encounters with police may lead to them uncovering something illegal in an individual’s pockets or bag. Other times, those accused of unlawfully possessing drugs didn’t have them in their pockets or on their person but were near the drugs when the police found them.

Oftentimes, someone who owns or drove a motor vehicle where the police found drugs will be arrested even if they claim that they knew nothing about the drugs or paraphernalia that the police found in their vehicle. Even the tiniest amount of a controlled substance or used drug paraphernalia, like used hypodermic needles, could lead to someone’s prosecution. The state could attempt to establish constructive possession as a way to convict a defendant of a drug offense.

What is constructive possession?

To hold someone accountable for the presence of unlawful items, the state has to prove that the person charged with the crime knew about those prohibited items and potentially had control over them. The specific standard used in New York criminal cases is “dominion and control over” the drugs or paraphernalia. Someone arrested after police finds drugs or paraphernalia in their vehicle could fight their charges by undermining the claims of constructive possession.

How do people challenge allegations of constructive possession?

There are a few tactics that can work when someone wants to raise questions about whether or not they truly had access to and control over the drugs found in their vehicle or near them somewhere. A lack of fingerprints or other forensic evidence directly connecting them to the items found could raise questions about whether someone knew those items were nearby and had the option of handling or controlling them. Some people will focus on presenting an alternate explanation, such as how they used to use their vehicle as a rideshare driver.

The evidence that the state has and the criminal history of the individual arrested will influence the best strategy to use when responding to claims of constructive possession in New York. Those accused of a drug offense that seems to have arisen from nowhere can defend against such charges and potentially avoid a life-altering criminal conviction if they seek legal guidance and push back in informed ways. Fighting back against drug charges requires careful planning but can potentially preserve someone’s reputation and future opportunities.