Louis C. Mussari | Attorney at Law
Chess Pieces

Constructive possession can turn a traffic stop into an arrest

by | Aug 5, 2022 | Criminal Defense

Most people feel dread or irritation when they see the flashing red and blue lights of a police officer illuminate behind them in traffic. Instead of proceeding to their destination as planned, now they will be stuck on the side of the road for as long as the officer wants to keep them there.

The average driver talking to a police officer during a traffic stop will be eager to work with the officer so that they can go about their business. When the officer asks to search the vehicle, a driver may not hesitate to give permission. They know that the police officer won’t find anything, and they imagine that saying no might mean a much longer confrontation.

However, once police officers search the vehicle, they could find something that the driver didn’t know about and then arrest them. How does the state hold you accountable for items found in your vehicle but not in your personal possession?

Items close to you may be under your control

Constructive possession can make you responsible for items in your vehicle or home, even if the item was far away from you at the time of your arrest. Actual possession is the legal term for when you have an item in your direct control. Items in your pockets or briefcase are items that you actually possess.

Items that are close to you and that you might theoretically have control over could also be in your possession. New York does allow prosecutors to establish constructive possession for certain criminal charges, like drug offenses. Constructive possession means that the location of an illegal item made it likely under your control.

If a police officer finds drugs under the mat in the back of your vehicle, the state would use constructive possession as justification to charge you with a crime.

How can you fight allegations of constructive possession?

The fact that prohibited items were not in your direct possession can play an integral role in your defense strategy. You only need to create a reasonable doubt to avoid conviction, so creating a plausible explanation for how something got in your vehicle without you knowing could play a role in defending yourself.

Tracing the chain of ownership to show that a prior owner had multiple drug convictions or showing that many people get into your vehicle, possibly because you carpool or work part-time as a rideshare driver, could potentially help you avoid a criminal conviction. Learning more about the rules that apply in New York criminal cases can help you protect yourself when accused of a crime that you didn’t commit.