How Does Possession Work when Multiple People are in the Car?

Blog #3: How Does Possession Work when Multiple People are in the Car?

If you find yourself charged with a drug possession charge, you may be confused if the drugs were not technically on your person at the time of arrest or if there are multiple people arrested for the same possession crime.

This is what can make drug possession crimes confusing.

Possession Defined

A person has possession of a substance if he has control over it. This can be either personally or through another person. Additionally,  you don’t have actually to hold or touch something to possess it. This also means that two or more people may possess something at the same time

This means that you can be in possession of a drug if it is your backpack in the car trunk or in your house while you are out for dinner.

Knowledge Defined

The key factor in determining possession is whether you knew of the existence of the drug. Additionally, the prosecutor only has to prove that you knew the drug was some type of drug, not the specific type of drug.

This can get confusing, and you may even think it is unfair. Here is an example:

You are in the car with 3 of your friends. You know that you all did some illicit substance earlier in the day, and the rest is in your friend’s backpack in the trunk. You aren’t sure if the drug is cocaine or methh. If you are stopped and arrested for possession of cocaine, you can still be convicted. You knew the drug was a controlled substance, and you knew of its existence in the backpack in the car. It does not matter that you weren’t sure if it was cocaine or meth.

When Can Law Enforcement Search My Car During a Traffic Stop?

Obviously, law enforcement can search your car if the police officer has a valid search warrant for the car. But what if they don’t have a warrant – can they still search your car? The short answer is yes; police can legally search your vehicle if they have probable cause.

The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unlawful search and seizure generally prohibits arbitrary vehicle searches by police. Typically there is a warrant requirement to search your property.

There are exceptions to this warrant requirement. They are:

  1. You give consent to search the car
  2. The officer has probable cause to search the car
  3. The officer reasonably believes he must search the car for his safety (i.e. he believes there are concealed weapons in the car)
  4. You have been arrested, and the search of the car is related to the arrest

When can Cars be Stopped for a Traffic Stop?

So the next question is when can a police officer stop you for a traffic stop?

Automobiles may be stopped if an officer possesses a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the motorist has violated a traffic law.

Reasonable and articulable suspicion allow police to conduct automobile searches without warrants. However, they still must have probable cause to search a vehicle. They may not make random stops of cars on the roads. Instead, They must base stops of individual vehicles on probable cause or some “articulable and reasonable suspicion” of traffic or safety violation or some other criminal activity.

The best way to define reasonable and articulable suspicion is by requiring the police officer to state reasons that a search would be warranted. This is a lower standard than probable cause.

Here is an example how this can play out:

You & your friends are driving around town. Your car is stopped for running a red light. That is reasonable and articulable suspicion that a traffic law has been violated. Then, when the police officer comes to your window for your license, he sees a baggie of white powder in the cupholder. That fact now gives the police officer probable cause to search your car for illegal drugs; because the baggie of white powder (which could be cocaine or meth) is reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime has been committed (i.e. possession of a controlled substance).

H Law Group Online

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