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Carpooling in Central East Ontario – What If Other Passengers are Transporting Something Illegal?

If you live in central east Ontario, you may have to travel to another municipality for work. Whether you’re going from Campbellford to Cobourg, Lindsay to Peterborough, or Peterborough to the GTA, many of us do it on a daily basis. The reality of living in idyllic cottage country is that the job market does not afford the same opportunities as larger centres. We have to get mobile. This being the case, it makes economic sense to team up with colleagues or acquaintances going the same direction in a carpool capacity. Whether you rotate by day or by week, your turn to drive is bound to come up (which also means your turn to nap also comes around). But what if you are involved in a routine traffic stop? What if the police request to search your car? You are a responsible driver and a law abiding citizen, so certainly you have nothing to hide, but do you know who is in possession of what in your vehicle? What if you are only a passenger and, unbeknownst to you, there is something illegal stuffed under the seat? Certainly you can’t be charged with its possession, can you? It might be useful to look at the common law concept of constructive possession and its implications for you if you are simply trying to get to work.

Constructive possession is a common law (old law going back to the courts of England) concept which describes a situation wherein you could legally have possession of something, regardless if you actually had physical possession or even knew of its existence or whereabouts. Ok, the knowledge part is an essential element, you would have to know it was there, but that is for it to be proven, not for you to be arrested and charged. The police will not take time to deliberate who had the contraband, who knew about it, and what it was doing there. They will most often charge everyone in the vehicle. This is a very tricky and confusing situation. As you can imagine, it has created many a heated argument, both in and out of the courtroom. Take the example of a car full of people driving to work, and one has a problem with cocaine and has brought some with them. If for any reason that cocaine is found in the car, the owner of the car could be charged with possession of that substance. The owner of the car (especially if also the driver) is in a worse position than the passengers or the owner if ‘deemed’ to control the vehicle. Depending on its location in the car, everyone could be charged with possession of that substance, depending on whether or not it is in a place that could be randomly accessible to anyone in the car. I don’t know of too many people who would demand to search passengers in their car before entering, especially colleagues with whom they are carpooling. Someone demanding to search a car before they accept a ride to work doesn’t seem very neighbourly, or even reasonable, either. Again, the knowledge portion is difficult for the Crown to prove, but this is a decidedly unpleasant and scary situation all the same.

If you have found yourself in a situation where you are being charged with possession of something that wasn’t physically on you or of which you had no knowledge, you may want to consult an experienced criminal lawyer. The team at Aitken Robertson offers free consultations to let you talk it out, assess your case, and breathe a little easier knowing experience and proficiency are in your corner. Call today.

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