Constructive Possession and Vehicle Searches
Our law firm, based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, represents individuals charged with a variety of crimes and offenses in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Many of these matters start with a vehicle or traffic stop followed by a search of the vehicle based on the police officer’s belief that it contains contraband (i.e. drugs, gun).
Do Police Need A Warrant To Search My Vehicle?
It’s important to understand that in Pennsylvania and New Jersey the police do not need a warrant to search a car. Warrantless searches are permissible provided that the officer has probable cause to believe that the car itself contains contraband. In the past, Pennsylvania did not permit warrantless searches unless the Commonwealth could establish, by a preponderance of the evidence, exigent circumstances. This, however, is no longer the case and the Commonwealth now has very similar search and seizure laws very similar to New Jersey.
It’s important to remember that if you’re stopped in a vehicle which contains contraband, you should never make any statement about it, even if that statement is “its not mine.” Simply remain silent and cooperate with the officer but again, do not make a statement or give any type of consent. If you’re stopped for suspicion of drunk driving, you should not refuse a breath or blood test but your consent should end there. Read my article on DUI refusal
Actual vs. Constructive Possession
It’s important to understand that your mere presence in a vehicle which contains contraband does not establish your possession of an illegal item beyond a reasonable doubt. I’ve written in the past about actual vs. constructive possession. Actual possession means that the illegal item is found on your person while constructive possession means that the item is found within your immediate control and you had the ability to exercise dominion and control over it.
Motor Vehicle Stops & Possession
There are a number of cases in Pennsylvania which state that unless the prosecution can establish constructive possession of an item against all occupants within a motor vehicle, it cannot establish constructive possession against one occupant. This case law is very strong for a defense and it’s important that your criminal lawyer keep it in mind if your case involves a motor vehicle stop and any type of illegal gun, drug, or weapon.
What happens if you’re convicted of gun or drug offense?
In most situations, illegal gun or firearm charges are felony offenses and if convicted a person is subjected to a likely state prison sentence. In New Jersey, the illegal possession of a handgun carries with it a mandatory minimum 42 month state prison sentence unless your attorney, following a conviction or plea, can successfully argue that you should receive a waiver to that mandatory minimum sentence.
While Pennsylvania does not maintain a mandatory minimum sentence law for the illegal possession of a firearm, it does have a mandatory minimum sentence for the illegal transfer or sale of a firearm. For more information on illegal guns, narcotics, and your right against illegal search and seizure I encourage you to keep reading this blog.