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- by Stephen Gustitis
Criminal defense lawyers regularly deal with possession issues in their law practices. The most common charges brought against folks in Bryan-College Station involve marijuana, controlled substances (including dangerous drugs), alcohol, and weapon charges. Certainly, possession of illicit pornography and stolen property could be included in this list of potential offenses. The question I most often answer for clients concerns the difference between possession and ownership as it relates to Brazos County charges brought against them.
Texas criminal law prohibits more than ownership of illegal materials. In fact, possession is the key issue. Or should I say “knowing” possession is the most common hook upon which the defense lawyer hangs their hat. Let’s look first at how possession is defined.
Possession is typically defined as having “actual care, custody, control, or management” of some illicit contraband. Notice that “ownership” is not included in this definition. In other words, someone need not own something in order to possess it. A simple example helps explain the point. Suppose several college buddies (all under 21 years of age) go out for a night on the town. One person brings along a twelve pack of Bud Light which they purchased earlier in the evening. (a separate offense, by the way) Each person has a beer and finishes by throwing their empty cans on to the backseat floorboard. A traffic stop then occurs where the police observe the unopened cans of beer in the front seat. Although the one friend owned the beer, each person in the car could potentially be charged with possessing the alcoholic beverages.
Another, often overlooked, aspect of the possession case is whether the charged person “knew” they were in possession. If the police cannot prove the defendant knowingly possessed contraband they are unable to obtain a conviction. Supposed the same group of friends went out together, but this time without the beer. Instead, the owner of the car had baggies of marijuana stashed under the seats, in the glove box, and in the trunk . . . all without the knowledge of his friends. The same traffic stop occurs and the marijuana is located by the police. Now, although the marijuana was within easy reach of each person in the car (and arguably in their possession) only the driver actually knew it was there. Commonly, each person would be arrested and charged, but unless the prosecutor can prove knowledge the accused friends should escape conviction. (with the help of a good College Station defense attorney, of course).
Possession charges are one of the most common criminal offenses charged against persons in Bryan-College Station. However, the experienced defense lawyer can help the accused person navigate these dangerous waters. Help is available, so don’t go it alone.
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Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.