When is Someone in Constructive Possession of Drugs?

 

          If you have been charged with a drug crime in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach, Belle Glade, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lake Park, Lake Worth, Lantana, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, Palm Springs, Riviera Beach, Royal Palm Beach, or Wellington, call me, attorney Ron Chapman, at 561-832-4348 to discuss your case and see how I might be able to help you.

 

          In order to prove someone guilty of the crime of trafficking in cocaine, a prosecutor must establish that the accused individual knowingly was in either actual possession or constructive possession of 28 grams or more of cocaine.  To prove constructive possession, the prosecutor has to show the following two things beyond a reasonable doubt:

 

  1. The defendant knew of the presence of the cocaine; and

 

        2.  The defendant was able to exercise dominion and control over the cocaine.

 

          Proving these two things can sometimes be quite difficult, especially when the cocaine is located in a jointly-occupied automobile.  That was the situation in the case of Culver v. State of Florida.

 

          In that particular case, Ms. Culver was driving her car and had a passenger with her when the police stopped her.  After a drug-sniffing dog arrived and alerted to the presence of contraband inside Culver's vehicle, the car was searched, and a paper bag containing 33.45 grams of crack cocaine was found behind the passenger seat.  Culver was eventually charged with trafficking in cocaine.

 

          At her trial, Culver argued that the prosecutor had not established that she was in possession of the crack cocaine found in her vehicle due to the lack of evidence showing that she had knowledge of the presence of the cocaine or that she had dominion and control over it.  Nevertheless, Culver was convicted of trafficking in cocaine.

 

          On appeal, however, the court hearing her case reversed her conviction because the prosecutor failed to present any evidence linking Culver to the cocaine other than the fact that she was close to it while riding in her car.  The appellate court stated:

 

"Ms. Culver pointed out that her passenger could have put the brown paper bag behind the passenger seat after Ms. Culver had left the car.  Indeed, both the deputy who made the stop and the K-9 officer who was assigned to watch the passenger expressed concern about the passenger's continuing movements inside the vehicle after the stop.  We note that the [prosecutor] did not present any fingerprint evidence, admissions, eyewitness testimony, or other evidence tending to establish that Ms. Culver had dominion and control over the brown paper bag or the plastic baggie hidden inside it.  For example, the [prosecutor] did not present evidence showing that the law enforcement officers saw Ms. Culver in possession of the brown paper bag, that the brown paper bag was already behind the passenger seat when Ms. Culver left the vehicle, or that the brown paper bag was found inside or in close proximity to Ms. Culver's personal property."

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