Drug Charges: Actual Possession vs. Constructive Possession

In Pennsylvania, drug possession crimes are prosecuted under one of two legal theories: "actual possession" or "constructive possession."  Actual possession is what most of us think of as possession - that is, being in physical custody or control of an object (holding it in your hand, having it in your pocket, etc.). Constructive possession, on the other hand, is a legal theory used to extend possession to situations where a person has no hands-on custody of an object. In PA, constructive possession exists when a person has knowledge of the presence and nature of an illegal substance (in other words, he knows where and what the substance is), as well as the intent and ability to control that substance. Constructive possession is most commonly utilized by the prosecution in cases where drugs are found in a house or in a car, but not on the defendant's person.

Naturally, constructive possession is a lot harder to prove than actual possession. Merely being in close proximity to an illegal controlled substance, without more, is not enough. Accordingly, the Commonwealth will often present a variety of factors in an attempt to circumstantially prove that the defendant constructively possessed an illegal substance. These factors include: proximity to the contraband, forensic evidence (fingerprints and DNA), incriminating statements made by the defendant, and any indicia (driver's license, utility bills, etc.) linking the defendant to the contraband. 

It is also important to note that more than one person can constructively possess an illegal substance. This is known as "joint constructive possession." Joint constructive possession is most often seen in cases where drugs are found in a common area of a house or a car when multiple people are present.

In sum, a defendant charged with drug possession under the theory of constructive possession has a good chance of beating their case with a proactive and aggressive defense.  For that reason, if you have been charged with possessing an illegal controlled substance in PA, you need to speak to an experienced Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney immediately. At Bishop Law, we have years of experience handling complex drug cases and have successfully litigated countless cases to verdict. Call or text us today at (412) 589-9422. Our only goal is to get your drug charges dismissed.