If the operator of a vehicle has something illegal concealed on their person, or in their purse, is a passenger automatically in possession as well?

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If the operator of a vehicle has something illegal concealed on their person, or in their purse, is a passenger automatically in possession as well?

In other words, by law, is the operator of a vehicle responsible for everything/everyone in the vehicle? If indeed the operator is responsible for everything in the car, can the passenger be in posession of what is found in the operators purse or on their (operators) person? The operator is also the owner of the vehicle, who stated there was nothin illegal in the vehicle, yet when officals searched the vehicle, they found drugs in her purse. So would it be considered “reasonable doubt” that the operator lied to the police that she would lie to the passanger also about not having anything?

Asked on January 7, 2014 under Criminal Law, Missouri

Answers:

Stan Helinski / McKinley Law Group

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

Massachusetts courts have held that presence of something illegal is not enough to establish even probable cause.  In order for there to be even probable cause (which is required even to charge you), there must be some evidence that you exercised control over the illegal item.  For example, if a gun were found in the center console of a car, and you were the front seat passenger, you very well may be charged and convicted given facts favorable to the Commonwealth. 

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 7 years ago | Contributor

No, the passenger would not automatically be in possession; and conversely, the operator is not responsible for everything in the vehicle by law. It depends on the facts--who do the facts show was in possession of the contraband? Typically, the assumption would normally be, in the absence of good evidence to the contrary, that drugs belong to the person in whose purse they were found.


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