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Do Houston Prosecutors Need to Prove You Had “Exclusive” Possession of Illegal Drugs?

We have all heard of cases where someone is arrested for drug possession when illegal narcotics are literally found on the defendant’s person. But what if drugs are found in an area that might be subject to the control of more than one person? Let’s say the police search your apartment and find cocaine. Can you get out of a criminal charge by saying, “They must belong to my roommate”?

Jury Believes Roommate Over Defendant in Heroin Case

Obviously, the answer to that question will depend on a number of factors. But in terms of the law, Texas prosecutors do not need to prove a drug defendant was in “exclusive possession” of the place where the police actually found the drugs. Instead, the state can point to one or more “affirmative links” that show the defendant had “knowledge of and control over the contraband.”

Here is an illustration. In a recent case, Runnels v. State, a Texas appeals court upheld the conviction of a defendant charged with possessing heroin in a “drug-free zone.” On appeal, the defendant argued there was insufficient evidence “affirmatively linking” him to the drugs, which he maintained belonged to his roommate.

The case began in April 2015. The defendant and his roommate were traveling in the roommate’s car. They pulled into an alleyway that was under surveillance by a local sheriff, who had previously observed illegal drug activity at that location. The sheriff then followed the car and initiated a traffic stop near a local school (which is in the aforementioned “drug free zone.”)

The stop eventually led to a search of the vehicle. One of the sheriff’s deputies then recovered “a packet of methamphetamine and a packet of heroin” located in a bottle “between the passenger seat and the center console,” according to court records. The defendant’s roommate said the drugs belonged to him. The police officers, however, suspected the drugs actually belonged to the defendant.

During a subsequent custodial interview, the roommate told the police that the drugs were “partly owned” by the defendant and that he had been “dealing the narcotics in town.” Based on this, the police arrested and charged the defendant. The roommate testified against the defendant at trial.

Before the Court of Appeals, the defendant argued the only evidence linking him to the drugs was the roommate’s testimony–and the roommate was not a credible witness because he was a drug addict and had “did not like” the defendant. The appeals court declined to second-guess the jury’s assessment of the roommate’s credibility. This testimony was sufficient to “affirmatively link” the defendant to the drugs, as was the fact the arresting officers initially found “drug paraphernalia” in the defendant’s backpack.

Speak with a Galveston or League City Drug Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

The defendant in this case received a 20-year prison sentence. That should tell you how seriously Texas prosecutors take drug possession cases. So if you are charged with any kind of drug crime or drug offense, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates online if you need help today or call (281) 280-0100 .