Drug Bust: Who’s Responsible When Contraband is Found in a House?

It’s a homeowner’s worst nightmare—the police show up at your front door to search your house and find illegal drugs. Even if the drugs don’t belong to you, you could still face criminal charges.

But who exactly is legally responsible when drugs are discovered on a property?

It depends.

Determining who faces arrest and prosecution depends on several factors. Prosecutors will look at who occupies the property, who had access and control of the area where drugs were found, who owns or leases the property, whether you were near the drugs, and whether there is proof you knew about the drugs. Just owning or living at a property is not enough to prove guilt.

Let’s review what the state needs to prove to press drug possession charges and how police and prosecutors decide who to blame when drugs are uncovered in a home.

Proof of Possession is Required for Drug Charges

Simply finding drugs in someone’s house does not mean they automatically go to jail. For any drug possession charges, the state carries the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the individual was in possession of a controlled substance and was aware of its presence and nature.

Drug cases are more straightforward when law enforcement finds the controlled substance on the subject’s person, such as in a pocket, in their hand, concealed underneath clothing, or in a bag that the subject is carrying. Such cases are known as “actual possession.”

Some people have a misconception that the State will bring drug cases only when the facts involve “actual possession.” The reality is that many – and maybe most – drug cases do not involve actual possession.

But many drug cases involve a legal concept known as “constructive possession,” which occurs when a person is not in actual possession of an object but exercises dominion and control over it, especially when the object is readily accessible.

Possible evidence of constructive possession in a drug case includes:

  • Proximity to the drugs
  • Confessions of ownership
  • Routine access to the areas where drugs were located
  • Knowledge of the presence of drugs
  • Proximity of the drugs to other items owned by the subject, like clothes, identification, etc.
  • Whether the drugs are inside a container (like a purse or backpack) owned by the subject

Without sufficient proof of possession, drug charges likely won’t stick. But police often use their discretion to arrest first and let prosecutors sort out the evidence later.

Factors That Suggest Control and Knowledge

If illegal drugs are found in a home occupied by just one person, law enforcement will likely presume it belongs to the sole resident. But what happens when multiple people share a property?

Establishing constructive possession becomes more difficult when drugs are found in common areas readily accessed by multiple roommates or family members. In these cases, police look for individual factors that point to knowledge and control over the contraband.

For example, if the drugs were found in someone’s bedroom, that provides stronger evidence of possession than if they were hidden in a common area. If one person behaves suspiciously or has a history of drug crimes, they may become the prime suspect. A confession from someone claiming the drugs are theirs is also very incriminating evidence, though people sometimes falsely confess to protect others.

Ultimately, the totality of evidence must demonstrate an individual’s knowledge and control over illegal substances. Without proof tying the drugs to a specific person, charges may not be justified.

What if Drugs are Found in Vehicles and on Property?

Drugs found inside a car or on someone’s property can also lead to possession charges, even if the owner wasn’t present.

For cars, drugs discovered under or near the driver’s seat typically implicate the driver, while substances found in the trunk or glove compartment may not be as incriminating for the driver. Likewise, drugs found in the passenger door or the backseat would tend to implicate passengers. For properties like yards and outbuildings, constructive possession depends on factors like security measures and visibility of the areas where drugs were concealed.

All in all, a wide range of circumstances can lead to drug charges when illicit substances are found on your property.

Minors Present Could Escalate the Charges Against You

The discovery of unlawful drugs within a home shared by minors represents an extremely serious legal situation. Beyond potential drug possession charges for the adults involved, additional child endangerment charges may apply when contraband is accessible to children. This can dramatically escalate the legal jeopardy compared to drug charges alone and, in some cases, can affect child custody.

Meeting the Burden of Proof for Drug Possession

Ultimately, determining responsibility when drugs are found on a property involves many variables. Police use discretion based on the factors and evidence suggesting possession.

However, conclusions drawn by law enforcement may not align with legal standards for proving possession beyond a reasonable doubt. Weak or circumstantial evidence may fail to convince a jury.

This is where experienced criminal defense attorneys can be invaluable for those accused of drug possession—scrutinizing the prosecution’s case for holes and offering alternative theories where drugs could have been left by another party.

Meeting the high burden of proving constructive possession often proves challenging for district attorneys unless evidence clearly links the accused to knowledge and control over the illegal substances.

If you’ve been implicated in drug charges, don’t leave your fate to chance. Consult with a seasoned drug crimes lawyer right away to start crafting your defense. The seasoned attorneys at Rose Legal Services have successfully defended Missourians against drug cases for years. Reach out for a case evaluation today.

Author Bio

Scott Rose, an experienced criminal defense lawyer and founder of Rose Legal Services, has been practicing law for over 20 years. He is dedicated to representing clients facing criminal charges and providing legal representation on various cases, including DWI, misdemeanor, and felony cases.

After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, he gained valuable experience working for a United States Senator and as a Judicial Law Clerk for the Chief Judge of a United States District Court. Throughout his legal career, W. Scott Rose has committed to providing high-quality legal representation to his clients, earning him a spot in the National Top 100 Trial Lawyers.

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