Understanding constructive possession

You could face a lengthy prison sentence plus a considerable fine if a North Carolina judge or jury convicts you of committing an alleged drug offense. Regardless of the specific crime with which the prosecutor charges you, however, your conviction rests on the supposition that (s)he sufficiently proves your possession of the drugs in question. If (s)he cannot, the whole case fails, and (s)he must drop the charges or face the strong possibility that the judge or jury will acquit you.

The prosecutor can prove your possession, ownership and/or control of these drugs either by showing actual or constructive possession. If the officer who arrested you found the drugs in your pocket or on your person, that is actual possession.

Constructive possession poses a considerably greater problem for the prosecutor. Here (s)he must rely on circumstantial evidence sufficient to give the judge or jury reason to believe that you own the drugs.

Constructive possession example

Sufficient constructive possession proof exists if the officer testifies in the following manner:

  • (S)he stopped you for a traffic violation.
  • (S)he verified your ownership of the vehicle.
  • (S)he observed that you had three passengers in the vehicle.
  • (S)he asked your permission for a vehicle search and you granted it.
  • (S)he asked you to produce the key to your locked glove box and you complied.
  • (S)he discovered illegal drugs hidden in the glove box.

In this scenario, the fact that the officer found the drugs in your locked glove box serves as sufficient evidence that you owned or at least controlled the drugs. Why? Because only you had the glove box’s key.

Had the officer found the drugs in your unlocked glove box, the situation changes dramatically. In this scenario, any one of the four of your vehicle’s occupants could have placed the drugs there, and no one can say with certainty which of you in fact did so. Consequently, no one can say for certain which of the four of you possessed or owned the drugs unless the culprit confesses, which is highly unlikely.

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