Some people get entangled with legal matters simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They might have been in a car with their friend without knowledge of illegal drugs in the back seat, or something of the sort. When this happens, can they be arrested or charged with the same offense for possession of an illegal substance?

In order to provide a clear understanding of the situation, one has to look at the various factors involved, including the type of possession and indicators considered by the courts.

Two Types of Possession

When it comes to the possession of drugs, courts determine whether the person had actual possession or constructive possession.

Actual Possession

Actual possession is equivalent to physical possession of the illegal substance, such as holding it in their hands or having it in their pocket. As long as the substance in question is on their person, it can be construed as having actual possession of it.

Constructive Possession

On the other hand, constructive possession does not require physical possession of the illegal substance. To constructively possess something, according to Indiana courts, means a person has both the intent and ability to exercise dominion or control over it.

In the context of illegal substances, a person who has the ability to grab and retrieve it can be considered to have constructive possession.

Court Indicators of Possession

While actual possession is straightforward, constructive possession isn’t always as simple as black and white. When in the face of the situation possession cannot be determined, the courts take a look at a number of other indicators.

Proximity to the Persons Involved

Here, the courts will assess how close the person was to the illegal substance. Someone within close proximity to it will more likely be aware of its existence compared to someone at a further distance.

In a car, for example, where illegal drugs are placed on the floorboard, the person sitting on the passenger side will likely know it is there as it’s right by their feet. Hence, it’s a lot more difficult to make a case against their awareness of the illegal drugs as compared to someone seated in the backseat.

Incriminating Statements Made by the Parties

According to the Miranda doctrine, whatever a person arrested says can and will be used against them in a court of law. When they expressly state to the police officer that they own the illegal substance, they effectively incriminate themselves.

Comingling of Personal Property

Comingling of personal property happens when two people’s stuff are mixed together. For example, if a bag containing illegal drugs owned by one party also has another person’s identification card, the two of them can be held responsible for the possession of the illegal drugs found in the bag.


The owner of the bag, car, or any other piece of property where the drugs are located almost immediately gives them constructive possession of the illegal substance.

Can Multiple People Be Arrested for Possession of the Same Drugs?

Generally, multiple people can be arrested and charged for the possession of the same drugs. But the situation would differ on a case-to-case basis, depending on the factor of constructive possession and the court’s indicators.

A Lawyer’s Tip

It can be difficult to build a defense against constructive possession, especially with the sheer number of indicators the courts look at to determine it. And as they say, prevention is better than cure. In this scenario, it’s wise for individuals to always know the people they are spending time with. Learn their habits, assess their likelihood of carrying illegal substances, and do a quick inspection of the surroundings.

These small actions can go a long way in preventing arrest or charges for the possession of illegal drugs should they get pulled over by a police officer in a car, have authorities knocking on the door with a search warrant, etc.