If South Carolina law enforcement officers charge you with allegedly committing some sort of drug crime, the evidence will need to show that you owned, controlled or possessed the drugs recovered by the officers before the prosecutor stands any chance of convicting you of the specific charges you face. FindLaw explains that this is where the legal doctrine of constructive possession may save the day and make it impossible for the jury to convict you.
Possession of anything, drugs or otherwise, comes in two forms: actual and constructive. Prosecutors never have a problem proving drug possession by actual possession. An officer’s credible testimony that (s)he recovered the drugs from your person, such as by finding them in your pocket, more than suffices to prove actual possession.
Constructive possession, on the other hand, becomes much more difficult to prove. Why? Because it relies on the circumstances surrounding the drugs’ recovery by the officers. Only if this circumstantial evidence is strong enough to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you really did possess, own and/or control the drugs can they convict you.
Assume that the officer gives the following testimony at your trial:
- (S)he stopped your vehicle for an alleged traffic violation.
- You drove the vehicle and a passenger sat in the passenger seat.
- The officer asked if (s)he could search your car, and you told him or her that (s)he could.
- When (s)he tried to look inside your glove box, (s)he found that it was locked.
- (S)he asked you for the key and you gave it to him or her.
- (S)he found drugs hidden inside the glove box and proceeded to arrest you.
Given this testimony, the jury can clearly infer your possession of the drugs because the officer discovered them in your locked glove box to which you possessed the only key.
Now assume that the officer testifies to only the first three above facts. In this scenario, (s)he discovers the drugs hidden in a plastic bag underneath the driver’s seat. Based on these circumstances, no one, certainly not the jury, can reasonably infer that you possessed, owned or controlled the drugs. After all, there were two of you in the vehicle at the time the officer pulled you over, and both of you had equal opportunity to hide the drugs and equal access to their hiding place. The prosecutor thus fails to carry his or her burden of proof, and the jury must acquit you.
While you should not take this information as legal advice, it can help you understand the concept of constructive possession.