In both federal and state law in the U.S. being found in possession of any quantity of cocaine is illegal unless you have a prescription. Possession of crack cocaine, which is much cheaper than powder cocaine, attracts an even harsher penalty under federal laws and also in certain states. Although you might be familiar with the term possession, in legal circles, the term has a more complicated meaning.
When a person has been charged with illegally possessing cocaine, it means that the person knowingly had the cocaine on their person e.g. inside a pocket, or under their physical control e.g. in their purse. The term knowingly implies that the person knew they had the cocaine with them and that it was illegal to do so. Therefore, if you pick up a container that’s labelled flour and have no idea that it’s actually cocaine inside the container, you were not knowingly in possession of cocaine.
Constructive Possession of Cocaine
A person can be charged with constructive possession of controlled substances under U.S. law. This means that the person was in a situation where they had legal control over the substance. This doesn’t mean that the person had the cocaine on their person. A simple example is if cocaine is found by a customs agent in a suitcase that belongs to you. In such a case, you’ll likely be charged with constructive possession.
However, you could also be charged with constructive possession if cocaine is found in a shrub beside where you’ve parked your vehicle.
People have been charged with constructive possession after cocaine was discovered in:
· Property (home, business, vehicle) owned by the individual
· The person’s hotel room
· A warehouse being used by the person
· A parcel that had been sent to the person etc.
The prosecutor in such a case will be required to show that the defendant intended to and had the power to control the cocaine and that they knew the substance was cocaine. Sometimes, a person will also be charged under the same law if a person that’s associated with them is found with the drugs. This can include when the cocaine is found in the purse of a passenger in your car.
Common Defences to Possession Charges
Lack of knowledge: When charged with possession of cocaine, you’ll have to show that you genuinely didn’t know that the substance in question was cocaine. However, the circumstances that led to the drug being in your possession will be called into question.
Lack of Intention or Power to Control
The government will need to show that the person being charged intended to control the cocaine if it wasn’t in their possession.
Penalties for Possessing Cocaine
The severity of the penalties a defendant will face will depend on whether or not they have been previously convicted of the same crime. Under federal law, a first time drug possession charge will attract a possible prison sentence and a fine of £739 or more. Two more prior convictions for the same crime will attract 90 days or more in prison and/or a fine of £3693. However, the amount of cocaine involved will also be considered.