Judge gavel, handcuffs with white powder bag on dark table

Can I Be Arrested for Drugs That Aren’t Mine?

E. Gordon Peters, Jr., Attorney at Law June 1, 2023

Have you ever been in a situation where you were near drugs, but they weren't yours? Maybe you were in the car with a friend who had drugs on them, or you were at a house party where drugs were present, but you had no involvement in any of it. So the question arises—"Can I be arrested for drugs that weren't mine?" Unfortunately, the answer isn't as clear-cut as you may think.  

The criminal defense attorney at E. Gordon Peters, Jr., Attorney at Law is ready to offer skilled guidance to clients throughout Virginia. The firm is proud to advocate for the rights of individuals who have been accused of crimes in Lynchburg, Blackstone, or anywhere else in the state.

Constructive Possession  

Suppose you're in the passenger seat of a car, minding your own business, when the police pull you over. Before you know it, they find drugs in the car, but they're not yours.  

Can you still be held responsible for them? In legal terms, this is known as constructive drug possession, and it's important to understand how it works to protect yourself in these situations. 

Construction possession means that even if the drugs aren't physically on your person, you might still be charged with possession if you knew about them and had the ability and intent to exercise control over them. This can be a tricky thing to prove, as it requires the prosecution to demonstrate that you had knowledge of the drugs and the ability to control them. 

Consider the example of a Lyft or Uber driver whose passenger had drugs. In this scenario, if the passenger leaves drugs in the car and the driver doesn't know about them, then the driver likely won't be held responsible.  

However, if the driver did know about the drugs and had the ability to keep them or get rid of them, then they could potentially be charged with possession.  

It's important to note that intent is a crucial factor in constructive possession cases. If you didn't know about the drugs and had no intent to control them, then you most likely won’t be held responsible. 

Know or Should Have Known  

The legal theory behind whether or not you can be arrested for drugs that aren't yours is called "know or should have known." In other words, the state needs to demonstrate that you knew or reasonably should have known that the drugs were there and that they were illegal. 

For example, if you have a passenger in your car who leaves drugs in the back seat, you may not have known that they were there and thus would not be guilty of a crime in Virginia. 

However, if you're riding in a car with someone who is obviously under the influence, and they have drugs visible in the center console, it would be hard to argue that you didn't know the drugs were there.  

Outside of the "arrested for possession of my friend's drugs which I didn't know they had" situation, there are many other situations in which it might be far more difficult to show that you knew or should have known about drugs in your possession.  

Consider the case of an Airbnb. If you rent out a room on Airbnb, and a guest leaves drugs behind, you may have had no idea that they were there.  

Similarly, if you purchase a used car and later find drugs hidden in the trunk, it would be nearly impossible to show that you knew they were there when you bought the vehicle. In these cases, the state would need to prove that you were aware of the drugs in some way, such as through prior drug convictions or circumstantial evidence. 

Even if you're not guilty of drug possession, you might still be charged with other crimes related to the drugs. For example, if drugs are found in your car, you could be arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia if there are pipes or other drug-related items in the vehicle. Similarly, if you admit to knowing the drugs were there but claim they weren't yours, you could be charged with obstruction of justice or lying to a police officer. 

Incriminating Circumstances  

There are certain circumstances where possession of drugs can result in legal penalties even when you're not the owner.  

For example, if you live with someone who has drugs in the house, you might find yourself in trouble. If the drugs are within your reach and control, you can be arrested even if you didn't buy those drugs.  

This scenario is especially true if the police suspect that you're somehow complicit in the drugs, such as aiding in their sale or use. Your lawyer will help you prove your lack of knowledge in the matter, your negligible involvement, if any, and hopefully get you out of unnecessary trouble. 

If you're ever in such an unfortunate situation where you're accused of possessing or transporting drugs that are not yours, remember not to offer any explanations or statements to the police before first consulting an attorney. Anything you say or do after your arrest can be used—and most likely will be used—against you in a court of law. Let your lawyer handle the situation to avoid the risk of making things worse for yourself. 

Work Out the Details With a Skilled Defense Attorney  

Being arrested or charged for drugs that aren't yours can be a terrifying experience. It's crucial that you stay calm, understand your rights and legal options, and contact a skilled criminal defense attorney like E. Gordon Peters, Jr.  

With years of experience and a proven track record, Gordon can protect your rights, investigate your case, and help you pursue the best possible outcome. If you or someone you know is facing a drug charge, don't hesitate to reach out to Gordon and his team. Call today to schedule a consultation and get the help you need to navigate this tricky time.