Q: I was a passenger in a vehicle. We stopped to pump gas and I was in the store with the driver. When we came out of the store an officer called the driver over to him for an arrest warrant. The car was searched, and a syringe and 1 stamp bag were found. I was released. The driver is now claiming it was mine. Can I be charged? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: Yes, you can be charged. Can you be convicted? It depends on the facts. Where contraband is found in a car that both occupants had access to, it is difficult for the Commonwealth to convict one of the occupants if both are denying. Him owning the car works in your favor. If the contraband was found in the glove box or in the consul, that works in your favor. If under your seat, that works in his favor. Consult with a criminal defense attorney and be prepared for your Preliminary Hearing.
Q: I am on probation in Allegheny County of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and I caught a new case out in Jefferson County of Pennsylvania. I was driving my buddy’s and I was trying to help a trip of his by finding his way to get some little trick girl apparently out to make some money. I was giving them gas money to get there and then we got pulled over and there were some things found in the trunk. It was like a gram of crack and a little weed pipe and a crack pipe and the needle and stuff like that. They both wrote statements on me and said that everything was mine, but it wasn’t! But they both wrote statements on me and now I am getting charged with a misdemeanor and if I get violated on my probation I could do a couple years in jail! And, I have an eight-year-old son in my life that needs me very much and I really can’t be going to do no jail time! And, I am on a felony probation for aggravated assault on an officer and by rights I am not guilty for that either, but I pled guilty to it! So, I need some advice on how to go about this because they are offering me one-year probation. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: You need a lawyer to fight the case as hard as possible at the Preliminary Hearing or at trial if you are at that stage. It is not a good situation to be in, but perhaps your lawyer can find enough of a Probable Cause issue or constructive possession issue to get this lowered to a summary. It is a long shot, but not that long. If you plead to only a summary, it is still a technical violation and in addition to the facts (hanging out with pimps, prostitutes with drugs while on probation for Aggravated Assault) you may do a little time out. However, not as much time out as if you plead or are convicted of having drugs and paraphernalia on you. Call the lawyer.
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.