Is My “Mere Presence” Near Illegal Drugs Enough to Prove Possession?

September 7th, 2021 by Tad Nelson in Criminal Defense, Drug Crime, Felony, Misdemeanor Crimes

You probably already know that possession of certain drugs–or “controlled substances,” as they are technically known under Texas law–is illegal. For example, if an officer arrests you and finds a baggie filled with cocaine in your pocket, it is a pretty safe bet the prosecution will cite that as proof you knowingly possessed a controlled substance.

But what if drugs are found near you but not on you? Can you claim that you did not know there were drugs in your car or house when the police searched it? Here the law gets a bit more complicated. The legal standard for drug possession is whether the defendant exercised “actual care, custody, control, or management” over the controlled substance–and furthermore, that they knew it was illegal contraband.

In practice, what this means is that your “mere presence” in a location where drugs are found is not enough to prove possession. But if the prosecution can establish your “affirmative links” to the drugs using direct or circumstantial evidence, that may be enough to support a conviction.

Galveston Woman Receives 40-Year Sentence After Cocaine Found in Her Car

Here is a recent drug case from Galveston, Humphrey v. State, that illustrates what we are talking about. In this case, police in Texas City received a tip from a confidential informant about potential drug activity at a particular building. The police staked out the building and observed three people arrive in Chevy Tahoe. The defendant, in this case, was the driver of the Tahoe.

After the defendant drove away from the building, the stakeout officers informed the patrol to keep a lookout for the Tahoe. Patrol later pulled the Tahoe over, ostensibly for traffic violations, and an officer claimed they smelled marijuana “emitting from the vehicle.” Based on this probable cause, the officer decided to search the vehicle. During the search, the officer found “four bricks of a white-powder-like substance” inside the Tahoe’s center console. This substance turned out to be cocaine.

Prosecutors subsequently charged the defendant with felony drug possession. She was convicted on this and other charges and sentenced to 40 years in prison. On appeal, the defendant challenged the legal sufficiency of the evidence against her.

The Texas 14th District Court of Appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence. With respect to the evidence, the appellate court said the prosecution established sufficient “affirmative links” between the cocaine found in the center console and the defendant to prove she had actual control over the cocaine. These links included:

  1. The defendant was driving the vehicle where the cocaine was found and present during the police search;
  2. She was sitting “very close” to the drugs in a location that was “readily accessible” from her driver’s seat;
  3. Other contraband was found in the vehicle; and
  4. The defendant was “acting real nervous” when initially stopped by police, as the jury observed in a video recording of the encounter.

Speak with a Houston Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Today

If you are arrested on suspicion of possession of a controlled substance, the best way to help yourself is to say nothing to the police and contact an experienced Galveston drug charges lawyer who can review your case and advise you of your options. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today to speak with an attorney right away.

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