How Does the State Prove a Drug Possession Case?
In most areas, the War on Drugs has moved from the criminal law realm to the health and safety realm. Drug possession is one of the major exceptions. Law enforcement is very aggressive in this area. In 2017, police officers arrested over one million people for drug possession, mostly marijuana possession.
These prosecutions have a number of moving parts. That complexity helps Port St. Lucie criminal attorneys successfully resolve these cases, especially if the defendant has no criminal record. Defense attorneys need not “prove” anything. They must only create reasonable doubt. And, the more intricate the state’s case is, the easier it is to create such doubt on at least one element.
A successful resolution could mean a complete dismissal of charges, a plea which does not result in a criminal conviction, or a not-guilty verdict at trial.
Produce the Substance
Drugs and other contraband are only admissible in court if officers had a valid search warrant or a search warrant exception applied. Officers rarely have search warrants in drug possession cases. So, for the most part, that leaves a search warrant exception. Some common ones include:
- Plain View: If officers see contraband, in plain view, they may seize it without a warrant. That’s assuming officers were legally in that spot to begin with. So, the legality of a stop, or lack thereof, is often the critical issue in plain view seizures.
- Consent: Property owners, or apparent owners, can consent to personal property searches. An apparent owner is someone like a vehicle driver who does not legally own the car. Special rules often apply to consent searches if the defendant was on probation or parole at the time.
- Pat-Down Searches: If officers have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, they may pat down suspects for weapons and seize any contraband they see, or rather feel, in plain view. Generally, reasonable suspicion is an officer’s evidence-based hunch that criminal activity is afoot.
When it comes to producing the substance, the officer’s testimony in this area is not good enough. Without the physical item, the prosecutor’s case collapses like a house of cards.
Prove it was Illegal
In many situations, this element is rather straightforward. Illegal possession of opioid painkillers is a good example. Defendants either had valid prescriptions or they did not have them.
However, in other situations, this element is difficult to establish in court. Marijuana is a good example. This substance is illegal for most purposes, but industrial hemp is legal for most purposes. Physically, these two substances are indistinguishable. They look alike and smell alike. A THC content test is the only way to conclusively tell them apart. In most parts of the Treasure Coast, these tests are either unavailable or very difficult for prosecutors to obtain.
It’s not enough to produce the substance and prove it was illegal. Prosecutors must also establish all three legal elements of possession, which are:
- Knowledge, and
Assume Jim gives officers consent to search his house. Unbeknownst to him, Jim’s roommate has a large marijuana stash in his closet. If officers arrest Jim for marijuana possession, the charges probably will not hold up in court. He clearly did not know about the stash. Prosecutors would also be hard-pressed to establish proximity and control.
Contact an Experienced Lawyer
Many drug possession cases are far from straightforward. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Port St. Lucie, contact Eighmie Law Firm, P.A. We routinely handle matters throughout the Treasure Coast area.