Have you ever been riding along in the car with that crazy friend or your stoner uncle and wondered “what would happen if we got pulled over right now?” Possession of illegal narcotics in South Carolina is not always as cut and dry as being caught with drugs in your hand or pocket. Since drug possession offenses generally carry the possibility of jail time, it is important to understand what the law considers “possession”.
In South Carolina, one can be charged based on “actual possession” or “constructive possession”. Actual possession is simple; that is when the drugs are located on the individual, such as in the hands or pockets. Constructive possession is when drugs are found close enough to someone that they could “exercise dominion and control” over the substance. In the context of a vehicle stop where drugs are found in a common area of the passenger compartment, this is often referred to as “the hand of one is the hand of all” doctrine.
If drugs are found in the glove compartment, center console, or other common area in a car with multiple occupants, the law allows for all occupants of the vehicle to be charged with drug possession because everyone could theoretically exercise dominion and control over the drugs. In other words, anyone could have put the drugs there prior to the traffic stop, so anyone or everyone could be charged with them.
When it comes to constructive possession, being charged and being convicted are two very different things. The police officer needs only probable cause to make an arrest, but the prosecutor needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for a conviction. Mere presence, without knowledge of drugs in the car, may be a defense to constructive possession. These cases are very fact specific and often turn on the intent of the individual and their ability to exercise dominion and control over the drugs. Whether the drugs were found closer to the back seat or front seat occupants could play a factor. The driver and/or owner of the vehicle may also be seen as more culpable depending on the circumstances involved. Police will usually separate the occupants and attempt to take statements from everyone to see if anyone will identify who put the drugs there.
If you have been charged with drugs simply because you were present in a car, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to protect your rights immediately. Loignon Law Firm will thoroughly investigate your case and challenge probable cause for your arrest early on in your case. Setting up a strong defense from the start is the best way to position your case for a quick resolution. Call us today for a free consultation at (843) 790-9388.