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Drug Possession Crimes And The Three Ps


Every year, law enforcement officers nationwide arrest over 1.8 million people for drug violations. That figure is higher than the number of arrests for assaults, DUIs, or any other type of crime. The vast majority of drug arrests, over 80 percent of them, are for simple possession. Police officers make lots of drug possession arrests because they believe the matters are straightforward and easy to prove in court. However, as outlined below, these matters have a lot of moving parts.

An Indianapolis drug crime lawyer effectively challenges the state’s evidence in these and other criminal cases. Since the burden of proof is so high in these cases, challenging the evidence is usually the best way to obtain the best result. This result could be a plea bargain to a less serious offense or a not guilty verdict at trial.

Produce the Substance in Court

First and foremost, when police officers seize drugs, weapons, illegal pornography, or any other contraband substance, prosecutors must produce this substance in court. If officers don’t have a valid warrant, an exception to the search warrant requirement must apply.

Some common search warrant exceptions are:

  • Automobile Exception: Outside of limited circumstances, if probable cause exists, a search warrant is simply not required to search a vehicle.
  • Plain View: If the police contact was legal, and officers see contraband in plain view, they don’t need a warrant to seize it.
  • Consent: Officers don’t need warrants if property owners, or apparent property owners, like roommates whose names aren’t on the leases, give affirmative and voluntary consent to search. Consent is not all or nothing. Owners can give limited permission to search, and may revoke consent during the search.
  • Weapons Pat-Down: If officers have reasonable suspicion, which is specific, articulable facts that indicate criminal activity, they may pat suspects down for weapons and seize any evidence they see, or rather feel, in plain view.
  • Exigent Circumstances: These are circumstances showing a threat to the life or safety of officers or others, and the imminent destruction of evidence. Where exigent circumstances exist, police are not required to delay action until a search warrant can be obtained.

Prove it was Illegal

But for marijuana possession, a confirmatory lab test is required to prove the nature of a particular substance at trial.  Even if the confirmatory test if positive, an Indianapolis criminal defense lawyer can order a re-test from an independent laboratory to confirm the results of the State lab.  Chain of custody and the nature and procedure of the specific testing may also be subject to challenge.

Establish Legal Possession

Ownership is not required to prove possession. The “I was holding it for a friend” excuse doesn’t hold up in court.  In fact, it is an admission to a knowing possession.

However, possession is more than proximity. Prosecutors must establish knowledge and intent to control beyond a reasonable doubt.  Relevant factors to consider are dominion and control over the location where the drugs were found, the drugs being co-mingled with the person’s personal property, was the item in plain view, and is the illegal nature of the item immediately apparent.  If one person didn’t know there were drugs under his seat, he didn’t legally possess them, although he was sitting on them. Similarly, if the person was in the back seat and the drugs were in the glove compartment, prosecutors would be hard-pressed to establish control.

Connect With a Diligent Marion County Attorney

Criminal suspects have important rights when their cases go to court. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Indianapolis, contact Rigney Law LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.


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