Drugs in Automobiles: Who's Guilty?

When the police search a car and find drugs such as marijuana or cocaine, the person located closest to the drugs is often arrested even though there were other people located in the automobile just before the car was searched.  In that situation, the person who was arrested may well have a good argument that he is not guilty of possessing the narcotics if the prosecutor is unable to prove that he was in "constructive possession" of the drugs.

In order to prove that someone is in constructive possession of narcotics, a prosecutor in Florida must show that the accused individual:

1.  Had dominion and control over the drugs;

2.  Knew of its presence;

3.  Had the ability to maintain control over the narcotics; and

4.  Had knowledge of its illicit nature.

When drugs are found in a car containing more than one person, a jury is not permitted to simply infer that the accused individual knew about the presence of the narcotics nor is it permitted to infer that he had the ability to maintain control over the drugs.  Instead, the prosecution is required to present independent evidence that the individual knew about the presence of the narcotics and that he had the ability to maintain control over them.  Such evidence might consist of statements made by the accused to the police or evidence that that individual's DNA or fingerprints were located on the drugs.  But unless such evidence is presented at trial, the accused individual should be found not guilty.

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