Can a passenger be held liable if thedriver/owner has stolen items theircar of which the passenger had no knowledge?

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Can a passenger be held liable if thedriver/owner has stolen items theircar of which the passenger had no knowledge?

A passenger was recently arrested and placed in jail because the owner/driver of the car had stolen items in the trunk. The owner got off without any time or punishment. Can the passenger really be held liable for the owner having stolen items in his/her own vehicle?

Asked on February 25, 2011 under Criminal Law, California

Answers:

MD, Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

There seems to be more to the story than what is presented here. Essentially, everyone in a vehicle is held to be liable (simultaneously) for any contraband or items found in a vehicle, including stolen items unless each person can prove he or she had knowledge that either a) the items were stolen or b) the presence of the items in the vehicle.  If the vehicle's owner was arrested, the trial may not have begun.  Just because the person was released from jail doesn't mean charges haven't been filed or a hearing hasn't been set. You don't know whether the person has been bailed out or if indeed charges had been dropped due to a lack of probable cause. Now, one person's charges being dropped doesn't mean automatically the other's should be dropped as well. Did the passenger know of these items in the car? If the passenger really did not know and the owner's charges have really been dropped, it is now up to passenger's legal counsel to get this matter resolved by filing motions to drop the charges due to a lack of probable cause.


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