Invalid Drug Arrest Based on Constructive Possession of Cocaine

A common scenario for drug arrests in Jacksonville, Florida will have the police searching a car, house or other location, find a bag of drugs and arrest the person closest to it. When the police find drugs, they want to arrest someone, although proof that the person arrested possessed or owned the drugs does not always exist.

For instance, in a recent criminal case just outside of Jacksonville, Florida, the police were investigating a hotel they believed was a known drug area where crack cocaine was often sold. They observed the defendant enter and leave one of the hotel rooms several times. The police recognized the defendant as someone who had an outstanding warrant for his arrest. The police officer followed the defendant into the hotel room and found a crack pipe and cocaine in the room. The crack pipe and cocaine were on the night stand in between the two beds. The defendant was in the room along with two other people. No one in the room was in the immediate vicinity of the crack pipe and cocaine. The hotel room was not registered to the defendant.

The police arrested the defendant for possession of cocaine and possession of drug paraphernalia, perhaps because he was closest to the drugs or because they were familiar with his criminal history. However, the case was later dismissed by his criminal defense lawyer.

In order to make a valid drug arrest under these circumstances, the police must have evidence that the defendant actually possessed the drugs and/or crack pipe or was in constructive possession of the drugs and/or crack pipe. Actual possession of drugs is self explanatory. If the defendant had the drugs in his hand or pocket, that would be actual possession. Constructive possession of drugs is not as clear. In order to establish constructive possession of drugs, the evidence must show that the defendant knew of the drugs and had control over the drugs. For instance, if the drugs were in the defendant’s jacket pocket on the bed next to him, that would be a better case of constructive possession. But, when the drugs are found somewhere in a room with multiple occupants that is not registered to the defendant, the drugs can belong to someone else in the room or someone else entirely. Under those circumstances, the police do not have sufficient evidence to arrest someone on drug charges.

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