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Can A Passenger Be Charged If Drugs Are Found In The Vehicle?

Passengers are frequently charged if drugs are found in a vehicle. The police will ask the people in the car who it belongs to, and the people will rightfully exercise their right to remain silent and make no admission. At that point, the police will threaten, “If no one is going to own up to it, then I am going to cite everyone”. Sometimes, at that point people will change their tune and confess, but other times, everyone in the car will be charged, simply because they were in the car.

There is a recent Utah appellate court case called State v. Lucero at 350 p. 3d 237 of 2015, which held that co-occupancy alone in a vehicle was insufficient to attribute constructive possession—even where the backpack and its contents were within the defendant’s reach, but where the defendant denied ownership, and there was nothing else other than occupancy in the vehicle to suggest a nexus or link between the defendant and the contraband.

In other words, there must be some other evidence that creates and establishes the defendant’s knowing and intentional control over the contraband, beyond mere occupancy in the vehicle.

What Is The General Timeline For A Drug Related Case In Utah?

The general timeline for a drug-related case depends on the jurisdiction. In Salt Lake County and surrounding counties, it’s roughly 2 to 6 months. In more rural counties, as you get into further away from the largest cities, the courts are held less frequently and things can go on longer. In these jurisdictions, the average is 4 to 10 months.

Do Most Drug Related Cases End Up Going To Trial Or Do They Mostly Plead Out?

Drug cases, like all cases, end most frequently in a negotiated settlement, commonly called a plea bargain. Most cases don’t go to trial unless there are genuine evidence issues, such as witness availability or credibility, for instance. Trial also occur where there is genuine reasonable doubt, such as when there are multiple occupants in a room or a car, for instance, and there real reasonable doubt and an inability on the part of the prosecutor to prove their case.

Another other way that cases are resolved is a dismissal. Dismissals happen when the prosecutor has been convinced to dismiss the case, or the judge has ruled that the evidence was obtained illegally and is not admissible in trial—in which case the prosecutor is left without the evidence case, and has no other choice but to dismiss.

Lastly, cases sometime resolve with a plea held in abeyance, and some other cases even resolve with a diversion, although diversions are extremely rare.

What Are The Penalties And Sentencing Guidelines For A Drug Conviction In Utah?

Penalties and sentencing for a drug conviction often include monitoring or supervising, whether that is random testing or other kinds of monitoring, other kinds of educational series, a substance abuse evaluation, and completion of any kind of recommended treatment, counseling or education.

There is also the automatic suspension of a person’s driver’s privilege in the State of Utah, for a period of 6 months, for any conviction of the Controlled Substances Act or the Drug Paraphernalia Act. There are standard fines and jail time. Alternative sentencing measures to jail include home confinement, community service, or ankle monitoring, for instance. Other collateral consequences include a person’s record generally for purposes of gaining employment, housing, or even federal loans for education.

Are There Any Alternative Programs Available To Drug Offenders In Utah?

Various counties have drug court programs, and we do have drug court program here in Salt Lake County. The conditions for acceptance into the program are strict, and are getting stricter each year. It requires a person to be involved in a felony case with a prior conviction to be acceptable into drug court. Drug court is not for everyone. It is for the person who is committed and serious about following through with the program, and seeing it through to the end successfully. The result is worth it if person can get the charges dismissed through a plea in abeyance, or can avoid prison by getting clean.

It’s a large commitment where there is often, at least at the beginning, weekly appearances in court, along with individual and group counseling and therapy sessions. But it’s a great alternative to incarceration for a lot of people. For those people, it’s a great idea because it’s really our system’s attempt at providing more of a rehabilitative effort rather than punitive measures for people who commit crimes because they are drug addicts not because they are criminals.

For more information on Constructive Possession In Utah, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 455-1743 today.

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