Charged with Drug Possession as a Passenger: Why You Can be Held Responsible for Someone Else’s Drugs in NJ

constructive possession

Almost all of us have friends or acquaintances who take recreational drugs like marijuanaheroin, cocaine, and ecstasy in some form or another. Say one of these friends offers you a ride home and they have a stash of drugs in their car. You get pulled over. The police find the drugs. Can you be charged and prosecuted for drug possession in that situation? The short answer is yes, but not always. The circumstances of the specific case are very important in determining how and when you can be held legally responsible for possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) that may not belong to you, even if you’re just a passenger in someone else’s car. Let’s delve into this situation. We will provide you with a better understanding of constructive drug possession in New Jersey and why it may apply to your case. If you have been charged with possession of drugs while in a vehicle with multiple people, please feel free to contact us at (908) 838-0150 to speak with Union County criminal defense attorney about the unique circumstances surrounding your drug charges.

What Happens When Someone Else’s Drugs Are Found During a Vehicle Search in New Jersey?

New Jersey law criminalizes the possession of controlled dangerous substances in NJSA 2C:35-10. This law specifically prohibits a person from purposely or knowingly possessing drugs classified as controlled dangerous substances, which range from methamphetamine (meth), to opiates like Percocet and Oxycodone, to benzodiazepines like Xanax, just to name a few. The law further states that it is both illegal to actually possess drugs or constructively possess drugs. To determine whether you can be charged with drug possession in the situation discussed above, where you are the passenger in a vehicle in which drugs are discovered, you need to understand both actual and constructive possession.

What if Another Person Had the Drugs on Them?

Actual possession is the more obvious type of drug possession. Under New Jersey law, actual possession of an object involves knowing what that object is and exercising control over that object. For example, if you have baggie of cocaine in your pocket and know that the item in your pocket is cocaine, under New Jersey law you actually possess that cocaine. You could likely be charged with a violation of the state’s controlled dangerous substance law in that situation. On the other hand, if someone else had the cocaine in their sock, it is less likely that police will hold you responsible and arrested you for cocaine possession.

What if Cops Find Drugs and There Are Multiple People in the Car?

Constructive possession is a little trickier to establish than actual possession, but it’s the aspect of New Jersey’s drug laws that could lead to your being charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance when you are the passenger in a car where drugs are found, even if they are not your drugs.

Under New Jersey law, constructive possession requires you to know what an object is, know that the object is nearby and available for you to pick up or otherwise exercise control over, and, finally, that you intend to exercise control over the object. More than one person can have an object in their constructive possession. Practically speaking, this means that both a driver and a passenger in a car could have constructive possession over a stash of drugs. Sometimes, a vehicle search at a traffic stop will result in multiple people getting arrested and charged with possession of CDS. This is particularly common when the driver consents to a search with or without knowing that there are drugs somewhere in the car.

How Can They Prove Constructive Drug Possession Against Me?

Generally, prosecutors prove constructive possession by using circumstantial evidence. For example, if you (the passenger in a car) and your friend (the driver) are pulled over with drugs in the car, and you both tell police officers about a stash of drugs in the vehicle, on top of which you both have keys to the center console or glove box containing the drugs, that’s strong evidence that you are both in constructive possession of the drugs. If, on the other hand, both you and the driver claim that the drugs don’t belong to you and maybe even claim that they belong to the other person, the police will have to draw from other evidence to determine who was in constructive possession of the drugs.

If the car is registered to the driver, and if other belongings of the driver are stored in the passenger compartment, the trunk, and in the center console, that’s circumstantial evidence that the drugs are his. If the car is registered to you, but your friend just picked you up from a bar to drive you home as a favor, and if you’re the only one with a key to the compartment where the drugs are stashed, that’s circumstantial evidence indicating that the drugs were in your constructive possession, even though you were just the passenger at the time you were pulled over. Sometimes, the evidence suggests that either person could have possession and knowledge of the drugs in the car, in which case both people may be convicted of a drug possession offense.

Arrested for Drugs that Weren’t Mine in Cranford NJ

New Jersey’s drug possession laws are complicated. You may be arrested for or charged with drug possession even if you are just the passenger in a car where drugs are found. But that does not mean that the prosecutor will actually be able to prove that you actually or constructively possessed the drugs at trial. An experienced criminal defense attorney can examine all of the evidence in your case and identify possible defenses that may be used to get your drug charges dismissed. For more information and a free consultation with local criminal defense lawyers serving all of Union County, New Jersey and surrounding areas, contact us at (908) 838-0150.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.