Arrested For Drug Possession While In A Friend's Car? What Can You Do?

When you were younger, your parents may have advised you not to "fall in with a bad crowd" for fear of being caught in the legal crossfire often associated with juvenile delinquency. If you've recently been arrested for drug possession after the police search of a friend's vehicle, you may be starting to see the wisdom of this advice. Fortunately, there are several legal defenses you may be able to assert in order to avoid a criminal conviction for drug possession. Read more to learn about some of the potential defenses to this charge, as well as the types of situation in which you may be better served by negotiating a plea bargain with the prosecutor. 

What are your potential defenses to this charge?

In criminal law, there are two common defenses to this type of situation. Some of these are used to exclude evidence that could be used to convict you, while others are used to legally disclaim your connection to the seized drugs. Any or all of the below factors may be asserted at once, as long as there are facts in support of these claims.

  • Unlawful search

If you were arrested following a traffic stop of your friend's vehicle, the arresting officer will need to establish that there was probable cause both to stop your friend's vehicle and to perform the search that led to the discovery of drugs. In many cases, drug and DUI arrests are made following a routine traffic stop for speeding, failure to yield, or other minor violations that can allow the officer to interact face-to-face with the driver.

Once the officer has sized up the driver, he or she may believe that other laws are being violated. If this is the case, he or she will look for factors to determine probable cause to conduct a search.

Although there's no standard set of facts by which to establish probable cause to search a person, many officers have successfully used factors such as perceived nervousness, agitation, dilated pupils, unusual smells coming from the vehicle, or other behaviors. Because these factors are somewhat subjective, a skilled criminal defense attorney may be able to attack the officer's recollection of the situation and invalidate the claim of probable cause.

If your attorney is successful in rejecting the officer's probable cause to stop the vehicle or perform a search, any evidence seized during this search is inadmissible against you. This means that if you are charged with possession of a drug and the prosecutor is unable to offer the physical existence of this drug into evidence, the claim may be dismissed.

  • Untested or invalidated drugs

If your argument against unlawful search fails, you may still be able to argue that the drugs seized were not actually illicit. In order for you to be found guilty, the prosecution must offer evidence that shows "beyond a reasonable doubt" that you were breaking the law. This evidence must include tests that establish that any drug seized was illegal to possess.

If the prosecution fails to perform an analysis of the drug on your person -- due to time constraints, simple oversight, or an insufficient amount of drug seized -- it therefore can't prove that you were in possession of an illegal drug, and the claim must be dropped. In practice, the judge may give the prosecutor some extra time to perform the testing (if possible). However, your attorney can argue that this delay and oversight is depriving you of your right to a speedy trial.

When should you enter a plea bargain instead? 

A plea bargain is an agreement entered into between you and the prosecutor and approved by the judge. This plea bargain provides benefits to both sides -- it allows the prosecutor to secure a conviction without going through the hassle and expense of trial, while allowing the defendant to enjoy a shorter sentence or lesser conviction than he or she might otherwise have received at the end of a trial.

You'll usually want to pursue a plea bargain if you want to avoid having the facts of the case splashed in the press, if you don't think you'll be successful at trial, or if you want to negotiate the conviction of a lesser charge (for example, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for the dismissal of a felony charge).