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Just because “the stuff” is in your car, do you actually possess it?

Normal possession vs. LEGAL possession

In my line of work, I spend a lot of time explaining the difference between the definition of possession as we use it on a casual basis and the LEGAL definition of possession, as is required by the Texas Penal Code to prove drug possession cases.

For instance, clients often think that since drugs were found in their vehicle, that automatically proves that they were in possession, and they can't fight the case. However, I tell them that just having drugs in your vehicle is not necessarily sufficient to prove legal possession. The State must still prove that you KNEW the illegal substance was in your vehicle.

This aspect of knowledge makes all the difference when disputing legal possession.

Check out this example to illustrate legal possession

Adam decides to mail some drugs to Brian. To do so, he puts the drugs in a box and sends it to Brian via USPS. The mailman, doing his usual duties, picks up the box and walks it to Brian's front door. Did the mailman legally possess the drugs? Of course he didn't. He was unaware that the box contained drugs. So, while he possessed the box, he didn't legally possess the drugs inside because he had no knowledge of the contents within the box.

2 common situations in drug cases

So knowing this important difference, let's consider two situations that resulted in drug possession charges:

  • Situation #1 – A person is pulled over by a police officer and drugs are found in the center console of the vehicle. The officer asks the person if the drugs are his, and he admits that they are. This is legal possession.
  • Situation #2 – A person is pulled over by a police officer and ultimately drugs are found in the backseat – in between the seats so that the drugs aren't even visible. The officer asks the defendant if the drugs are his and the defendant states that he had no idea any drugs were in his car. In this situation, the state may have difficulty proving LEGAL possession.

What can a lawyer do for me?

The State must prove LEGAL possession beyond a reasonable doubt. This can be much more difficult than the State wants you to believe. A board-certified criminal defense attorney can spot this possible issue, conduct legal research to back up his legal position, and present that argument and caselaw to a prosecutor as a way of getting a case dismissed, or at the least, work out a favorable outcome.