Can I Be Charged if I am in the Car with Someone Who Has Drugs?

It depends. Many different factors can come into play when addressing the question of whether you can be charged if you are in the car with someone who has drugs. A conviction for illegal possession of a controlled substance can be a felony punishable by imprisonment and fines in our state, pursuant to Section 69.50.401 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). A Seattle drug crimes defense attorney can protect your legal rights if you face possible or actual criminal charges for drug offenses.

Actual Versus Constructive Possession of Drugs

Actual possession of drugs means that an individual has drugs on his or her person. Examples of actual possession include:

  • Drugs or contraband in a person’s pocket, tucked inside of clothing, concealed in or under a hat the person is wearing.
  • Drugs or contraband in a person’s wallet, purse, backpack, briefcase, tote, or another item the person is carrying when approached by law enforcement.

If someone else in a car with you has drugs and law enforcement also discovers drugs or contraband on you in one of those locations, you might get charged with illegal possession of a controlled substance.

Constructive possession of drugs means that the drugs are not physically on the person, but law enforcement finds the substances in a place where the accused has dominion and control. For example, the driver and owner of a car might get charged with possession, based on constructive possession if law enforcement finds drugs in the console, glove compartment, or trunk of a car. 

Constructive possession is a murky legal concept in our state because the law does not include a concrete definition of the terms for purposes of drug possession. Courts look to the totality of the circumstances to determine whether a situation constitutes constructive possession.

Unwitting Possession

The lack of intent to possess drugs is not a defense, but unwitting possession can be a defense to criminal charges. By way of example, if a person wore a pair of jeans that had drugs in the pocket from a previous day’s wearing and did not intend to carry drugs the day the drugs got discovered by law enforcement, that lack of intent is not a defense. 

A person who mistakenly picks up someone else’s backpack, however, that contained drugs, that situation can be unwitting possession. If proven with credible facts, the accused can have an affirmative defense.

When a Person Might Face Charges Without Having Actual or Constructive Possession

If a person in a car appears to be under the influence of a controlled substance, and someone else in the car has possession of drugs, the impaired person could be under suspicion. Also, if the person in the car found with the drugs tries to cast blame on others in the car, there might be a factual dispute as to who owned the drugs. 

The person found with the drugs might claim that someone else in the car planted the drugs on them. It is possible to face charges even without being found in actual or constructive possession of drugs.

These cases are complicated and carry serious potential consequences. Anyone facing criminal charges involving drugs or contraband should talk to a Seattle drug defense attorney to build a strong defense and aggressively pursue the best outcome in the situation. Contact our office today.

DISCLAIMER: This post is intended to share my perspective, insights and some general information on various aspects of criminal cases. It is not legal advice and is not intended to substitute for legal advice. You should consult an attorney to obtain legal advice for your individual situation and case.