If you are in the car with someone who has drugs, you may face criminal charges too. Most people understand the serious implications that come with a criminal drug charge. But what if the drugs belonged to someone else? What if you were not aware of the drugs? According to Washington state law, you can receive the same penalties as if they were yours.

This is because it is not always easy to determine who has possession of the drugs during a traffic stop. Even if one person claims them, it is difficult to establish who was aware of the drugs and their location, and who was not. If you are being charged with criminal drug charges and the drugs belonged to another passenger, it is important to hire a Washington drug defense lawyer to represent you.

What is Constructive Possession?

Constructive possession refers to the law that someone who has knowledge of a drug can be charged, even without physical possession. This legal theory describes situations in which you can be charged, even as a passenger. Possession does not imply the same thing as ownership. Constructive possession means that you do not need to be in the same physical location as the drugs to be charged.

Fortunately, constructive possession does require that the prosecutor demonstrate that you should have realistically been aware of the drug’s location. Depending on the details of your case, this may be easy, or difficult, to prove. If the case goes to trial, then you and your criminal defense lawyer will need to convince the jury of your lack of knowledge.

The location of the drugs also makes a difference when it comes to constructive possession. If the drugs were in a clear location, then it may be more difficult to prove your lack of knowledge.

What Are the Consequences of Drug Charges in Washington State?

Understanding the legal consequences that you could face in Washington state following a drug charge is important. The state of Washington describes drug charges as a VUCSA charge, which stands for violation of the Uniform Controlled Substance Act.

The Uniform Controlled Substance Act is a part of the United States Code (USC). It is a federal policy that regulates controlled substances. The possession of a controlled substance in Washington State carries heavy fines and potential jail time. A controlled substance refers to a drug, or substance, that is included in Schedules I through V, when described by the federal or state law. The state of Washington also includes designer drugs in these laws.

The potential legal consequences that you could face for possession of a controlled substance depends on a few factors, including the type of substance, the amount in possession, and whether the individual has a prior criminal record or not. Additionally, the federal government categorizes substances into classes. Possession of certain substances, like those in class one, leads to higher consequences.

A drug charge conviction in Washington state could lead to the following:

  • Jail time
  • Prison time
  • Mandatory community service
  • Mandatory drug abuse classes
  • Mandatory counseling
  • Required drug testing
  • Legal fines
  • Felony charges

Felony charges also carry their own consequences. They lead to a criminal record, which can make it more difficult to find, and keep employment. Students could also lose out on student loans. Others may also lose certain rights, like the right to own a firearm.

Defendants facing criminal drug charges could also have additional charges, like distributing a controlled substance or distributing paraphernalia. If you have prior drug charges on your record, you are also more likely to face more severe legal charges. Other factors, like being arrested in a school zone, or in the presence of a child, can also worsen the charges.

Can I Be Charged With Marijuana Possession in Washington State?

While the state of Washington has legalized marijuana, it is important to keep in mind, that you can still be charged with possession of marijuana, if you meet certain circumstances. There are still limits on how much marijuana you can possess, as well as legal age requirements.

Washington state laws only allow for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, as long as you are of legal age. The sale of marijuana by non-state-licensed stores and smoking in public is also illegal in Washington state.

What Drug Defenses are Available?

While you might be able to argue that the drugs did not belong to you, this often concludes to one person’s word against another’s. Because a criminal drug conviction can impact your life in many ways, it is important to work with a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer who can build a defense on your behalf.

Depending on the details of your case, your lawyer may be able to build one of the following drug charge defenses:

  • Lack of possession: While being in a vehicle with drugs can imply possession, it may be difficult for the prosecutor to demonstrate dominion and control, or ability to control.
  • Unwitting possession: Unwitting possession argues that while you were in possession of the drugs, you were not aware of this possession.
  • Entrapment: Entrapment, or police abuse of power, may be a defense when police wrongdoing is present.
  • Fourth Amendment violation- The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizures.

The State of Washington also offers certain drug programs, which may or may not be an option for your case. A few of these include:

  • First Time Offender Waivers: The First Time Offender Waivers program reduces charges in return for minimum jail time and community service.
  • Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative: The Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative program offers reduced sentencing in return for attendance in a treatment program.

If you are dealing with potentially life-changing drug charges for drugs that were not yours, an experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer can help you evaluate your legal options.