Crimes involving "constructive possession," while difficult to prove, are easily charged when one is in the vicinity of something illegal. Guilty or not, you may be arrested and brought to court to defend yourself. Six young men riding in a mini van in Worcester last week will learn this soon in Worcester District Court.
According to Mass Live, a Massachusetts State Police trooper stopped a mini van for civil violations in a section of Worcester known for criminal activity on Saturday morning. The driver of the van, Jorge Luis Deya, did not immediately stop after the trooper activated his lights. In addition, the trooper claims to have seen the passengers "frantically moving" when the van did come to a stop. The trooper called for backup from the Worcester Police Department, approached the driver, and learned that Deya did not have a valid driver's license. The police ordered everyone to get out of the van and then they searched it. Inside, they found brass knuckles, 82 rounds of low caliber ammunition, and a bottle of wine.
Defense counsel will surely explore whether the exit order was a violation of each individual's constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If one of the passengers had a valid driver's license why wouldn't that individual be allowed to drive away without the exit order and search? Would the events preceding the stop justify the failure to take this course? This must be analyzed.
Of the six occupants, two were 20 years old, three were 18, and one was 17. All, therefore, were adults for purposes of criminal court. None, however, had a license or firearms identification card which would allow him to have the ammunition or brass knuckles and none were old enough to possess wine. And this is not kids stuff. Possession of brass knuckles is a felony punishable by up to five years in state prison. Whether such a sentence is likely or not, a felony conviction itself has far reaching negative consequences. Especially for the futures of young people.
The article does not say where in the van the items were found. At some point this information will be relevant when a judge or jury decides individual culpability. The police, however, simply grouped them all together. And the police probably had no choice. We may safely assume that none of the items were in the actual possession of just one of the men. If they were, then the charges would be brought solely against him.
Many who read these typical stories quickly assume that they are all guilty in one way or another. The same may be said of stories involving underage drinking parties. After all, they must have all known what was going on. The law, however, does not work that way. Each individual is entitled to have his/her case examined with an eye toward a presumption of innocence. And just being there is never enough for a possession conviction.
In order to be convicted of possessing something, the prosecution may attempt to prove actual knowing possession such as having an item in your pocket. In the alternative, they may attempt to prove constructive possession. This will likely be the theory that the prosecution will use in this case.
As such, the prosecution will be required to prove all of the following beyond a reasonable doubt against each individual. 1) The individual had knowledge of the object, 2) the individual had an ability to control the object, and 3) the individual intended to exercise control of the object.
Let's take the example of one rear seat passenger. Where is the actual proof that he knew the objects were in the car? Maybe he saw and heard the others talking about the objects, but there is no proof of that. Even if there were, and even if all of the objects were within his reach, that's not enough for criminal possession. There must be proof that he had an intention to exercise control of the objects. Where will that proof come from? Unless he admitted that to the officers, it will not be susceptible of proof.
Isn't everyone in the car entitle to be presumed to be the person who was just along for the ride with no intention of taking actual possession of the brass knuckles, ammunition, or wine? After all, what would be worse -- letting a guilty party escape punishment, or convicting an innocent one for the sake of preventing that escape? Our law prefers the former.
Even some people who find themselves in this situation have doubts about their own criminal responsibility. Contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney,early, therefore, vitally important.