In Florida, a defendant can be convicted of possession of marijuana or other drugs based on constructive possession. However, the state has to prove both that the defendant knew the drugs were present and had some sort of dominion or control over the drugs. For example, if a person walks into a friend’s house who is having a party and sees marijuana on the table and stays at the party but never touches it or smokes the marijuana, he would not be guilty of possession of marijuana if the police come in and arrest him. It is not illegal to be in the same room as illegal drugs and there is no legal obligation to leave a place where drugs may be present, although it might be a good idea to avoid legal problems.
A recent possession of marijuana case was a common example of a constructive possession of drugs case where the state would have a very difficult time proving its case short of the suspects giving statements to the police. A police officer pulled over a driver and immediately smelled marijuana in the vehicle. The police officer ultimately searched the vehicle and found marijuana in a backpack in the hatchback area of the vehicle. There were three occupants in the vehicle. The police officer arrested all of them, but they could not prove a possession of marijuana case on any of them. Basically, in order to prove that one or more of the occupants was guilty of possession of marijuana, the state would have to prove they knew the marijuana was present and establish proof it belonged to one or more of them or on or more of them was in possession of the marijuana. That is the idea with a constructive possession case- since the police did not see the suspect actually possess the marijuana, the state can still try to prove the marijuana was actually possessed by a suspect or belonged to a suspect with circumstantial evidence, or a confession.
In this case, the state could easily prove each suspect knew the marijuana was there because everyone could smell it. However, there was insufficient evidence to prove it belonged to any of them or any of them had actually possessed it. The vehicle was rented, and there was nothing else in the backpack indicating if it belonged to any of them. No one made any statements so the state had nothing more than proximity. As a result, this was insufficient for a possession of marijuana conviction for any of them
This scenario, or something similar, comes up very often. As criminal defense lawyers in Jacksonville, Florida, we handle these kinds of drug cases very often. The police usually do not go down without a fight, so to speak. If it is not clear who owns the marijuana, the police will not just apologize for the inconvenience and walk away. Normally, they will separate the occupants and strongly encourage them to say which person(s) owns the marijuana. Usually this takes the form of a threat to arrest everyone unless someone claims the marijuana. Most people fall for that. Oftentimes, more than one person claims the marijuana. However, people should know that they have a right to remain silent. If they do remain silent, the police officer is telling the truth that he/she will arrest everyone. However, it is usually better to be arrested without giving the police evidence, i.e. a confession, to make there case better against you than get arrested and give the police everything they need to convict you and give you a harsh sentence.