Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance in an Automobile

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently heard the case of State v. Scott on January 10, 2008. The Court held that ample evidence supported the conclusion that the passenger in the vehicle possessed the controlled dangerous substance (CDS) found in the car. The facts of the case are as follows:

In the early morning hours, Paterson police officers pulled over a car being driven without the headlights onĀ and in an erratic manner. It was being driven by Shariffe Parks; defendant Morgan Scott was a front seat passenger. After detecting a strong odor of marijuana and learning that Parks did not have a driver’s license, the officers asked him (the passenger) to exit the vehicle. The officers flashed their lights inside the car and saw a large plastic bag on the floor which they believed to contain drugs. Tests later revealed that the bag contained crack cocaine and marijuana. The driver and the passenger were convicted of possession of cocaine and marijuana. On appeal, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial court that there was sufficient evidence to support actual or constructive possession. The court stated that possession cannot be based on mere presence at the place where the contraband is located; there must be other circumstances that permit an inference of defendant’s control of the contraband. Criminal possession signifies intentional control and dominion, the ability to affect physically and care for the item during a span of time, accompanied by the knowledge of its character. Here, the court noted that the drugs were in plain view on the floor of the car in front of the driver’s seat.

The court also found that the odor of marijuana, the testimony that it was customary for drug dealers to work in teams, and the permissible inference that the occupants were trying to figure out where to hide the drugs when they continued to drive for several blocks after the officers activated their overhead lights supported the trial court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion for acquittal.

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