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Virginia Court Discusses Constructive Possession in Recent Drug Possession Case

On Behalf of | Mar 19, 2020 | Drug Crimes

Earlier this year, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Virginia drug possession case discussing whether the evidence presented proved that the defendant knew the drugs were in the center console of the vehicle he was driving. Ultimately, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to establish constructive possession, reversing the defendant’s conviction. The case presents a good example of the concept of constructive possession.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers pulled over the defendant for speeding. When the officer approached the car, he smelled marijuana and noticed that the defendant was nervous and sweating. The officers searched the car, finding a small baggie of marijuana in the center console. Also in the center console was a piece of crumpled up notebook paper with a single Oxycodone pill inside. There was no evidence presented regarding who owned the car, how long the defendant had been using the car, or where the marijuana was found in relation to the oxycodone.

At trial, the defendant convicted of possession of marijuana and oxycodone. The defendant appealed his conviction for possession of oxycodone, arguing that there was no evidence suggesting that the pill was his or that he knew about the pill’s presence.

On appeal, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction. The court agreed with the defendant that there was not enough evidence to prove that he knew the pill was in the center console. The court began by noting that “mere proximity to a controlled drug is not sufficient to establish dominion and control.” The court explained that, absent actual possession, the prosecution can proceed by establishing constructive possession. To show that a defendant constructively possessed an item, the court considers the “acts, statements, or conduct of the accused or other facts or circumstances which tend to show that the [defendant] was aware of both the presence and character of the substance.”

Here, the court held that there was insufficient evidence to show that the defendant was aware of the pill’s presence. The court explained that the pill was out of sight, crumpled up in a piece of paper. The court also noted that there was no evidence showing that the car belonged to the defendant. Additionally, the defendant made no incriminating statements or actions that could lead to an inference he knew the pill was in the console. Thus, the court held that the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed the pill.

Have You Been Charged with a Virginia Drug Crime?

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