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What does the prosecution need to make a drug possession case?

Could your roommate's drug habit pose a legal threat to you?

Unfortunately, it happens all the time. People share apartments or dorms with friends or strangers to make ends meet -- and the other person brings a drug habit and a small business selling the extra along. When that person gets caught, you wind up in the prosecution's sights as well.

Under the law, prosecutors only have to prove two things in order to convict you of drug possession:

  1. You knew there were drugs present
  2. You had possession or control over those drugs

It doesn't matter if the drugs weren't exactly in your hands when the police came -- if you had "constructive possession" of the drugs, that's enough for prosecutors.

A common scenario might be something like this:

  • Your roommate has been dealing marijuana to supplement his income (with or without your actual knowledge)
  • An informant tells the police that she got drugs at your address and the police raid your apartment
  • The drugs are found inside the flour tin on the counter in the shared kitchen
  • While you may swear that the drugs aren't yours, your roommate swears the same thing
  • The prosecutor assumes you're both dealing and charges you both accordingly

Even if you really didn't know the drugs were there, a jury can infer that you knew simply because the drugs were kept loosely hidden in a common area. You had easy access to the drugs and could effectively exert control over them -- just like your roommate. Based on those facts alone, you could be found guilty.

How do you protect yourself from something like this?

  • Start by being picky about your roommates. Make it clear that you won't tolerate illegal drug use or dealing of any kind and put it in the rental agreement between you.
  • Have clearly defined common areas and private space. Each of you should have a lock on your bedroom.
  • Keep a watchful eye on the common areas to make sure that you don't see any evidence of drugs.

If your roommate gets caught with drugs despite your precautions, these simple acts can go a long way toward giving you a solid defense. If the drugs were hidden in his or her locked room, it is much easier to convince a jury that you lacked knowledge of their presence and/or control over what happened to them.

Source: FindLaw, "Drug Possession Overview," accessed April 20, 2018

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