Your teenager is out with friends. One of them offers her a ride home. The friend is driving a little too fast and is pulled over for speeding.
But what started as a simple traffic stop soon escalates. The driver is acting nervous, which makes the officer suspicious. The officer starts asking questions. Teenagers are not stupid, but they are not going to outsmart a Collin County police officer. The officer eventually “convinces” the scared teens to let them search their purses and the car itself.
That’s when the officer finds illegal drugs in the console of a car. The driver insists the drugs aren’t his: He quickly blames your daughter, saying she must have put them there when he wasn’t looking. The officer decides to threaten arrest to everyone.
The Dangers of “Joint Possession”
You might think this is all a misunderstanding. Surely, you can just go down to the police station, explain that your child has never used drugs, and that will be that. Unfortunately, the Texas legal system does not work that way.
Even if your child is not found having drugs in their actual possession–i.e. in their purse or pockets–they may still be charged with a crime if prosecutors can prove there was “joint possession.”
The legal definition of “possession” is “actual care, custody, control, or management” of the contraband. Texas Penal Code s1.07(a)(39). For the Government to prove that the Accused “possessed” the contraband, the Government must prove: (1) possession and (2) that the Accused knew that the item possessed was contraband.
That much is clear enough when the Accused is caught with contraband in his pocket, or in her purse. But, what happens, for example, when a bag of pot is found in a car with two occupants? Can both be charged with possession of the same bag of pot?
Exclusive v. Joint Possession
“Exclusive possession” refers to possession of drugs or contraband by a single person. For example, if the Accused is arrested, and police find a gram of heroin in the Accused’s pocket or purse, the Accused would be alleged to have had “exclusive possession” of the contraband.
“Joint Possession” refers to possession of drugs or contraband exercised by more than one person. For example, if three people are in a car that is stopped by police, and a bag of pot is found underneath the back of the passenger seat on the floor, all occupants of the car could be charged with possession of the bag of pot if the meet the definition of Texas Penal Code s1.07(a)(39). Possession does not have to be exclusive—contraband can be jointly possessed by two or more persons. So, both occupants of the car can charged with possession of the same item(s) of contraband.
Here is a recent Texas case that illustrates how constructive possession works. A Texas police officer pulled a car over because he suspected the driver had outstanding arrest warrants. There were two female passengers in the car, one in the front and the other in the back.
The officer confirmed the identity of the driver and placed him under arrest for the existing warrants. The police then searched the two passengers, with their consent, but found no contraband. But after the car was impounded and searched following the arrest, officers discovered a syringe in “a compartment underneath the air conditioner/heater control.” The syringe contained methamphetamine.
Possession of methamphetamine is a much more serious offense than, say, marijuana. Indeed, the jury found the defendant in this case guilty of a state jail felony, which carries a two-year prison sentence. Although the defendant actually prevailed in an initial appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reinstated the conviction after prosecutors appealed.
The Court of Criminal Appeals explained that while “mere presence is insufficient to establish possession” of illegal drugs, there are a number of factors prosecutors and jurors may use to infer a “link connecting the defendant to the knowing possession of contraband.” Among other things, these factors include:
- The drugs were in plain view of the police officer;
- The defendant was actually under the influence of drugs at the time of arrest;
- The defendant made “incriminating statements” to the police;
- The drugs were found in an “enclosed” place; and
- The defendant’s overall conduct “indicated a consciousness of guilt.”
In this case, the defendant argued one of his passengers must have put the syringe under the dashboard when he wasn’t looking. But the Court of Criminal Appeals said the jury was allowed to infer “that the syringe was in the compartment the entire time.”
Has Your Child Been Charged With a Drug Crime in Collin County?
Most parents do not realize that their child can be charged with joint possession. This is why it is essential to teach your kids never to get into a car if they suspect anyone has or is using drugs. It is not enough for your own child to avoid using drugs. They need to be proactive and not allow themselves to be placed in a potentially compromising situation.
But everyone makes mistakes. Getting a ride home should not lead to a felony conviction. If your child has been unfairly charged with drug possession, you need to speak with an experienced Collin County drug crimes lawyer as soon as possible. Call a skilled Collin County criminal defense attorney with Rosenthal & Wadas today at 972-369-0577 if you need immediate legal assistance.