Can A Passenger Be Charged If Drugs Are Found In Someone Else’s Car?

I had a case recently and it actually went to trial. I had a client who worked as a waiter and he offered a ride to a couple of coworkers not close friends to the job on a particular day. One of the people he gave a ride to asked that he stop at a friend’s house, he had to pick something up. The police, it so happened, were doing a stakeout on the location where my client stopped his car and the passenger got out. He came back to the car shortly thereafter, the police followed him and then they stopped the car, searched everyone and found drugs on both the other passengers, not my client. They charged my client with joint possession of the drugs, claiming that he intended to share the drugs that the one passenger had gotten at the stop.

My client denied and said he did not know that individual well, that he was giving the ride to and had no idea that he stopped to go get drugs. The jury agreed and acquitted him. But, more routinely it happens this way. The police stop a car, you are the passenger and drugs are found in the car and they are within your reach if you knew that they were there, so they might be in a center console or in a side pocket. They can charge you with joint possession because in Florida, you can possess something by having actual control or possession of it on your person or you can have constructive possession, which says that if you are in a place that has easy access to the contraband, you constructively possess it even though it is not actual possession.

Either possession counts the same under the law if you are convicted. But the police or the prosecutor has to prove that you knew that the drugs were there and that you knew that they were illegal. If it is not your car and even though you might be in a position to find it or grab it, it does not absolutely mean that you knew it was where it was, so that you would not necessarily be convicted of that joint constructive possession. I had a case one time where there was a car stopped with four people in it and the drugs were under the driver’s seat and my client was the passenger behind the driver, so they charged him with constructive possession and we argued to the jury that he was just getting a ride, it was not his car, he had no knowledge of it and there was no proof to suggest that he, in any way, had anything to do with the placing of the drugs there.

Again, that case ended in acquittal. Being charged and being convicted are two separate things. So you can always get charged because that is the discretion or the whim of the police or the prosecutor but being convicted and being proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt gives you a chance.

How Are Home Searches Handled In Court?

Our constitution holds our right to privacy dearly. We should be secure in our homes, the police have to get over a much higher hurdle when trying to conduct a home search. Most times they need a warrant that is signed by a judge and is based upon probable cause that shows verification of the claims that are made in the police officer’s affidavit. The exceptions to the warrant requirement for a home basically fall into two categories. There are more but these are the ones that are common. If the police are in hot pursuit of an individual they believe committed a crime and that person is able to elude them and run into a home, the police see that, the police are not required to just stop at the doorway when they are in hot pursuit.

It is one example of an exception. Another typical one is if they are in the vicinity of someone’s home and they observe a crime being committed in their presence that can also give rise to an exception to the warrant requirement. If they are walking by someone’s house and the windows are open and they see them smoking crack or see someone strike someone like the domestic violence thing, they are not required to turn their heads away and ignore it and run to a judge and ask for a warrant, they can act on that immediately. That is another typical exception to the warrant requirement of going into the home.

Can A Visitor Be Charged If Drugs Are Found In Someone Else’s House?

Yes, but the visitor in the home like the passenger car has no standing to complain about the search. It is the homeowner, car owner or whoever is in charge of the car right to complain about the search. So, the passenger or the visitor can rely upon the homeowner’s right to challenge it but they do not have an independent right to challenge it because it is not their home. Let us assume the officer goes into someone’s home on a valid warrant and they find drugs in the bathroom. Well, potentially everybody in the house could be charged with joint constructive possession because they all have access and if it is open and obvious sitting out that inference can be made as opposed to finding drugs in someone’s personal bedroom that they only use in their closet or in their drawer that would not lend itself to a joint possession.

Does A Drug Charge Still Show On Record After An Acquittal?

In Florida, there is a method of sealing or expunging your record. If you are charged with a crime and you ultimately are acquitted of the crime, if you to trial, your ability to initially seal that record is dependent upon not having any previous convictions for any crime. In Florida, once you get a conviction for anything and it can be a misdemeanor or felony, you are forbidden from seeking a sealing or expunging of anything else after that conviction.

Even if you are acquitted or the case is dismissed, you are prohibited from doing that sealing or expunging. So, if that person who goes to trial and gets acquitted had no prior conviction, then they can move to seal the record and the record would have to be sealed for ten years before they could expunge or wipe out the record. But sealing removes it from public view, takes it off the clerk system, so only law enforcement would know it is there, not a prospective employer.

For more information on Being Charged With Drug Offenses, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (561) 866-5717 today.