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That's not mine! Can your roommate's drug habit put you in jail?

If you're striking out on your own at college this year, you need to understand how the law works regarding drugs and something called constructive possession.

Should you ever be in the situation where one of your roommates brings the police down on your heads in a drug raid, resist the temptation to say, "That's not mine!" if drugs are found. In fact, try to say nothing at all, especially if asked any questions about your knowledge of the drugs.

There's a good reason for that advice.

Under the rules of constructive possession, it only takes two things to secure a conviction:

  • Knowledge that the drugs were in the residence
  • The ability to exert control over those drugs

It doesn't take much to meet those requirements.

For example, imagine that you share a student apartment with several guys that you met through school. You all get along fine, but you gradually become aware of the fact that one of your new roommates not only uses marijuana but sells it -- and maybe a few other drugs as well. You've watched him meet strangers at the door, open a tin box he keeps on the top of the fridge, make a quick exchange of a baggie with something in it for some cash and put everything back in place.

You're pretty certain he's only selling to other students, and he pays his rent on time and doesn't bother anybody. In your mind, that makes what he does "his business," and you chose to stay out of it.

Unfortunately, he's made the whole thing "your business" as well -- because you are just as legally culpable as he is. You know that the tin box holds baggies of drugs of some sort and cash from drug sales. You could, if you wanted to, reach up and take the box somewhere or get rid of it.

Under the rules of constructive possession, that makes everyone in the residence who knows about the tin full of drugs equally guilty. If you're lucky, your roommate will take responsibility and the prosecutor will be satisfied.

However, don't count on luck -- get a defense attorney who handles drug cases to help you as quickly as possible. A drug conviction for constructive possession is still a drug conviction, and one that could potentially ruin your future.

Source: FindLaw, "Drug Possession Overview," accessed Sep. 08, 2017

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