In Florida, drug possession cases can be proven in two different ways. A person can be found guilty of a drug charge based on actual possession. Actual possession of a drug is what it sounds like. A person is holding the drugs or has them in his/her pocket or some other container actually in his/her possession. However, the state in Florida does not need to prove actual possession. A person can also be found guilty of drug possession based on constructive possession. This can occur when drugs are found near a person or in a place controlled by a person even if the person is not present, like his/her home or vehicle. In order to prove constructive possession of drugs, the state needs to prove more than just proximity to the drugs. The state has to prove that the defendant knew the drugs were present and had custody or control over the drugs- i.e. the ability to exercise some sort of ownership interest or control over the drugs.
A drug case south of Jacksonville, Florida,illustrated an example where the state could not prove that the defendant was the one who constructively possessed the drugs. Constructive possession of drugs often gets harder to prove the more people are near the drugs or have access to them. These kinds of drug possession cases are not uncommon. In this case, the police were investigating a separate crime and pulled the defendant over in a vehicle. The vehicle belonged to someone else. There was also a passenger in the vehicle. The police searched the vehicle and found a duffel bag in the backseat. The duffel bag contained a smaller bag of cocaine and marijuana. The duffel bag also contained items that belonged to the defendant, the passenger and some other person. Only the defendant was arrested for possession of marijuana and possession of cocaine.
At the trial, the criminal defense lawyer moved for a directed verdict of acquittal, which basically asks the judge to circumvent the jury and find the defendant not guilty based on insufficient evidence of constructive possession. The criminal defense attorney argued that the state could not prove that the defendant had custody and control of the duffel bag to constitute constructive possession. While there was evidence that the defendant knew about the bag and had some control over it since it was in the car he was driving and had some of his belongings in it, there was a joint possession issue. That is, there was equal evidence that the bag belonged to the passenger or the other person whose items were also in the bag. The state cannot prove constructive possession of drugs based on this circumstantial evidence when the evidence establishes that one or more other people appear to have an equal ownership or possessive interest in the drugs. There was nothing that set apart the defendant’s ability to have custody and control over the bag from the other two people involved. Therefore, the convictions for possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana were reversed.