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Addictive substances, including alcohol, cigarettes and drugs

Can I Be Arrested for Drugs That Aren’t Mine?

Darryl A. Stallworth Law Office July 25, 2022

Ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time? At some point in our lives, most of us will find ourselves in a precarious scenario that under most normal conditions, we would have otherwise avoided. Sometimes our ignorance or lack of good judgment can lead us into a dicey situation with seemingly no way out. Additionally, when these wrong place, wrong time moments involve law enforcement and criminal charges, things can get scary and overwhelming in a hurry.

One of the most common categories of crime that involves blame shifting and bears false charges is drug crime. It’s the classic case of “it’s not mine, it’s theirs!” Moreover, guilt by association doesn’t always apply to drug crimes.  

If you or someone you know has been falsely accused of any type of drug crime, options are available. At Darryl A. Stallworth Law Office, I am prepared and ready to advocate for you. I can teach you about California drug crimes, your rights, and clear steps that you can take.

Actual Vs. Constructive Possession

One of the most common drug crimes in California is possession. You may ask, “What happens if the drugs didn’t belong to me?” The answer lies in the difference between Actual and Constructive Possession. 

Actual Possession 

Actual possession means that drugs were found on you — in your pockets, in your purse or bag, or anywhere that another person would not have equal access to. 

Constructive Possession

Constructive possession is far more complicated than actual possession. It occurs when law enforcement finds drugs in the general area that you are in, but not directly on you. For example, police enter a friend's house where you’re staying with a warrant and find drugs scattered on the living room coffee table. Because you were in the house, you could be charged with constructive possession. Another common example is when police find drugs in the console or glove box of a car you are a passenger in. Constructive possession can even apply to an Uber or Lyft driver whose passenger had drugs. In any of these examples, even though the drugs may not be yours, because you are in close proximity to the drugs, a constructive possession charge may be brought against you. 

Known or Should Have Known

What makes constructive possession charges so complex is that just because you are near the drugs, doesn’t mean you actually had control over them. In order to convict a person of constructive possession, the state bears the responsibility to prove the following:

  • The defendant knew the drugs were present

  • The defendant knew the drugs were illegal

  • The defendant had “control” over the drugs

These scenarios illustrate how slight changes in circumstances can determine whether the prosecution has a solid conviction or the constructive possession charge would be quite difficult to prove.

Scenario 1 — Johnny and Suzy are driving when they are pulled over by police for a legal traffic stop. After determining probable cause, police discovered a small secure lockbox in the glove compartment of Johnny’s car. After retrieving the key from Johnny's personal key ring, police unlock the box and find cocaine packaged in tiny baggies as well as a notepad that lists meeting locations for buyers. The handwriting in the notepad matches the signature on Johnny’s driver's license. In this scenario, determining constructive possession would be fairly easy, these drugs most likely belong to Johnny, not Suzy. 

Scenario 2 — Johnny and Suzy borrowed a friend's car for the day. After being pulled over for a legal traffic stop, a small shoebox was located under the backseat that contained cocaine. Obviously, these drugs belong to someone but it is initially unclear who has actual “control” over the drugs. In this scenario, both Johnny and Suzy deny knowing anything about the drugs, and the prosecution's argument for constructive possession would be weakened.  

Incriminating Circumstances 

In addition to establishing “control” of an illegal substance, there can be incriminating facts or circumstances that can link a defendant to a drug crime. A few examples are:

  • When the drugs are located in plain view

  • When drugs are found on a defendant's personal items

  • Suspicious behavior 

  • Ownership of drug paraphernalia 

Although incriminating circumstances may provide a connection between the defendant and illegal drugs, it doesn’t always mean that a conviction is imminent. 

Turn to Reliable Representation

If you have been arrested for drugs that weren’t yours, you can be charged with possession, even if you had no idea how the drugs got there.  Even though constructive possession is far less severe than actual possession, a jury can still find you guilty through incriminating circumstances. 

One of the biggest mistakes defendants make when facing a drug-related charge is to settle for a court-appointed lawyer or hope that they can personally convince the judge to believe them and, in turn, reduce or eliminate their charges. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your charges, you should always consult with a reliable criminal defense attorney. This is your next step.  

At the Darryl A. Stallworth Law Office, I understand that everyone makes mistakes and no one deserves to bear the punishment for someone else’s crime. If you or a loved one is facing drug charges, call today. I proudly serve those in Oakland, California, and neighboring localities of Alameda County, Northern California, San Francisco, and the Bay Area.