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Breaking News: Passenger’s Choice of Words Claiming, “I Didn’t Know” Can Be Used to Convict for Drug Possession!

Under Indiana law, you can be convicted of possession of illegal drugs (or other contraband such as a gun) found during the search of a passenger vehicle, even if you are merely the passenger. This concept is called constructive possession and is used to charge and convict both drivers and/or passengers when there is no way for the State to prove direct ownership or control over the drugs or who knew the illegal items were in the car. This is not a new legal concept.

To balance innocence, in cases of constructive possession, the State is required to prove the existence of evidence linking the occupant(s) of the car to the illegal drugs (or other contraband), such as when the drugs are found under the passenger’s seat or in a bag belonging to the passenger. In a key new case--you need to know to protect your constitutional rights--another form of evidence that may be used to convict for possession of drugs found inside a vehicle-- the passenger’s own “incriminating statement” connecting the drugs to the passenger. This new case is the subject of this blog post—claiming “I didn’t know” may be an incriminating statement.

In this developing case on constructive possession, the Indiana Courts have affirmed the conviction of a passenger for constructive possession of drugs found in a bag behind the driver’s seat. The passenger’s conviction was based on his simple statement that he didn’t know about the drugs, so he shouldn’t be arrested. The trial court and the Court of Appeals determined and reasoned this to fit the definition of an incriminating statement. The Court’s analysis is that it was a “calculated choice of phrasing that lends itself more to an inference of guilt than an honest denial of ownership”.1

This decision effectively means that you could be arrested for possession of drugs as a passenger in a vehicle, even if you have no ownership or possessory interest in the car or other connection with drugs (or other contraband) depending on what you say. Cases like this demonstrate the importance of your actions and what you say in any traffic stop, whether you are driving or simply riding in a car with someone. Be aware! Knowing the law is the first step to be an engaged citizen. We hope this blog helps.

Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. handles criminal cases of all types throughout the state. This blog post is intended for general informational purposes and is not a solicitation for legal services. It is an advertisement.

  1. Parks v. State, Case No. 18A-CR-151 (Ind.Ct.App. October 18, 2018).
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