Q: There were the three passengers in the vehicle, a firearm was found and no one confessed to it being theirs, but only the passenger was arrested. The driver and the person in the backseat was let go while the passenger was arrested. Is that illegal? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: It is common for the police to charge all occupants of a motor vehicle if contraband was found in an area of the car in which any one of the occupants could have hidden the contraband. The DA can prosecute the case under a “constructive possession” theory, and even get a conviction. However, the police have the freedom to charge whoever they want. It is not unusual for the police to arrive, talk to several actors or witnesses and decide on the spot, who to charge and who not to charge. In your case, they figure, ok, if nobody will admit to it and make our job more difficult, we will charge them all and they can fight it out in court. Is it fair to the defendant who is charged and is not guilty? No, it is just the way it is. So, to answer your question, yes, the police can charge only one of the vehicle occupants. The good news is that the at trial, person charged can blame it on the other occupants to create reasonable doubt. If there is any doubt as to possession and his or her lawyer is half good, it will be a not guilty verdict.