In Virginia, it is unlawful to knowingly and intentionally possess a controlled substance without the proper authorization (Code of Virginia § 18.2-250). It is important to understand that actual physical possession is not required for a person to be charged with and convicted of a drug crime in the Commonwealth.
A defendant may be arrested based on a concept called ‘constructive possession’—meaning if police find drugs in your vehicle, you may still be charged with a crime. Here, our Richmond drug possession defense lawyer provides a more detailed explanation of constructive possession charges in Virginia.
Constructive Possession: Explained
Constructive possession is a legal fiction whereby a person can be deemed in “possession” of contraband despite the lack of direct evidence of actual physical possession. Constructive possession is often an issue when drugs are found in automobiles. If there are illegal drugs in your vehicle—even if they are not on your person—police may still arrest you on the grounds of constructive possession. Of course, an arrest is not the same as a conviction. For a constructive possession case to hold up in court, prosecutors must prove the following two things:
- Awareness: A defendant is not in constructive possession of drugs that they did not know about. To prove constructive possession in Virginia, prosecutors must establish actual knowledge of the presence and character of the banned substance.
- Control: The accused must be the individual who has dominion and control over the banned substance. Awareness of the presence of illegal drugs is not sufficient if the defendant did not actually have reasonable control over them.
Virginia Case Law on Constructive Possession
To get a better sense of how constructive drug possession works in Virginia, it is useful to consider a real world example. The 1997 case of White v. Com., 482 S.E.2d 876 centered on a man who was arrested and charged after law enforcement officers discovered crack cocaine in his vehicle. The bag was found stuffed in between the driver’s seat and the passenger’s seat.
Based on the proximity to the driver, the fact that the bag was mostly visible, and the fact that the defendant was the only one to operate the car on that day, the court inferred that the man operating the vehicle was in constructive possession of the banned substance. In determining if a person has “knowledge” and “control” of a substance, courts will always consider the totality of the circumstances.
Drugs Found in the Vehicle: How to Defend the Charge
All drug possession charges should be defended on a case-by-case basis. Constructive possession cases are notoriously complex. The specific facts must be assessed. A defendant facing charge should work with an attorney who can carefully document and organize evidence that undermines the key elements of the crime—those being awareness and control of the banned substance.
Additionally, a Richmond, VA criminal defense lawyer will make sure that your rights were respected and protected throughout the process. As an example, the Fourth Amendment protects people from unlawful searches and seizures. If drugs were found in your vehicle after an illegal search, your rights may be violated and the evidence may be excluded from court.
Get Help From a Richmond Criminal Defense Attorney Now
At Del Rio Law PLLC, our Virginia criminal defense lawyer is committed to providing exceptional representation to clients. If you were arrested for constructive possession after drugs were found in a vehicle, we can help. To request a completely confidential review of your case, please contact us now. From our law office in Richmond, we represent clients all around the region, including in Petersburg, Glen Allen, Goochland, Charles City, and Dinwiddie.