We've all heard the phrase "guilty by association." Fortunately, this phrase often doesn't hold much water in the legal world, as prosecutors oftentimes have to prove that the defendant him or herself committed the crime for which he or she has been charged. Yet, when it comes to drug crimes, New York's aggressive laws spell out some situations where an individual may be guilty of a crime even when he or she did nothing wrong.
More specifically, New York's law creates a presumption that all individuals in a vehicle are guilty of possessing a controlled substance if the controlled substance is found in the vehicle. The law does identify some exception. For example, if the controlled substance in question was found on the person of one of the vehicle's occupants, then the vehicle's other passengers are not guilty of possession. Likewise, an individual who has been hired as a driver would not be guilty of possession if a controlled substance was found in the vehicle, so long as he or she was acting legally at the time.
This same presumption holds when it comes to having narcotics in a residence or place of business. Under New York law, all individuals who are in close proximity to the drug are presumed to have possessed it, unless the drug is found on the person of another individual, or he or she has a valid and legal reason to possess the controlled substance.
So what does this mean for New Yorkers? It means that they may find themselves in a tough spot when they are accused of possessing an illegal drug. However, regardless of the circumstances, criminal defense options may be available to them. Whether negotiating a plea bargain or litigating the matter in hopes of obtaining an acquittal, discussing the matter with a criminal defense attorney may highlight a legal path that leaves an accused individual where he or she may be able to avoid some or all of the potential penalties he or she faces.