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In recent news, Michael Goodson, a running back signed to the New York Jets in the off-season before the start of the 2013 football season, was arrested in New Jersey for possession of marijuana and an illegal handgun. He was a passenger in a car and only a small amount of the marijuana was found in Mike Goodson’s actual possession. The facts are still unfolding in this case, but two interesting points of law are discussed below regarding this news event.

Related: Criminal Law, What Happens on the First Court Date if Arrested?, Drug Crimes, What to do if you are pulled over?


How can a passenger possess a gun/drugs that are found in the car?

When most people think of “possession” they imagine a person actually carrying the item in their pocket, bag, etc. But possession-type crimes are a little tricky. The state can get a conviction if they prove that the person is actually possessing the item (like if it’s in their pocket) and that the person knew they were possessing it. The state does NOT have to prove that the person knew that the item at issue was illegal to possess at the time. But the state can also get a conviction if the person is exercising “constructive possession” of the item. Constructive possession means possession in which the person does not physically have the property, but he/she is aware of the presence of the property and is able to exercise intentional control or dominion over it. A person who, although not in actual possession, has knowledge of its character, knowingly has both the power and the intention at a given time to exercise control over a thing, either directly or through another person or persons, is then in constructive possession of it. The law recognizes that possession may be sole or joint.

In the case of Mike Goodson, the early news reports seem to indicate that the gun was not actually on Goodson’s person, but was found somewhere in the car. Using the definition above (which is taken from the New Jersey Model Criminal Charges and based on N.J.S.A. 2C:39-3), you will notice that a lot will depend on where the gun was found, and the other related evidence. We do not know where the gun actually was. If, for example, it was found in the console between the passenger and the driver, then a jury could infer that both the driver and the passenger had constructive possession of the gun – or they may not. If, for example, the gun was in the driver’s personal bag, which was hidden under the back seat or in the trunk, then a jury would likely have a very hard time inferring that the gun was constructively possessed by one of the passengers. Since Goodson and the driver were both charged, what may have happened is that the police found the gun in an area that was accessible to both Goodson and the driver.

Do police need a search warrant to search the car?

But wait a minute, wouldn’t the police need a warrant to search the vehicle? The early news reports do not state that a warrant was ever obtained. All we know is that after Goodson and the driver were taken out of the vehicle, the car was searched and police found more marijuana and the gun. As a general rule, police need probable cause to believe that there is contraband in the vehicle, and only then can they search after receiving a warrant or knowing, voluntary consent to search. Since Goodson and the driver were reportedly heavily intoxicated, there clearly was not knowing consent to search. Even though the police were impounding the vehicle, they would still need a warrant to search it. If they never received a warrant, then the items found in the search may be inadmissible. The reports do not indicate any particular reasons that would lead the police to believe that there was contraband in the vehicle, so they may have searched in “on a hunch” and found the gun. Note that even if the gun was partially visible, they still would need a warrant to search.

However, Goodson did not own the car. He had no expectation of privacy regarding that vehicle. Interestingly, the evidence found in the vehicle may be inadmissible against the driver, but admissible against Goodson. Reportedly, both Goodson and the driver are denying that the gun is theirs.

New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney – Free Consultation With a Skilled Attorney

Remember, the police and prosecutors have teams of people working to put drug and weapons offenders in jail. In the process, they may overstep their bounds or arrest innocent people. If you have any question or you or a loved one were accused of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, please do not hesitate to contact us for a 100% free consultation.

Raff & Raff, LLP
Attorneys at Law
30 Church Street
Paterson, NJ 07505

Tel: (973) 742-1917
Fax: (973) 742-2454

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