You have been charged with possession of marijuana in Virginia—yet you never actually possessed the drug. How is that possible? The reason is simple: under Virginia law you may be guilty of marijuana possession if the prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were either in actual or “constructive” possession of it.
Actual possession is when you are physically in possession of an object, or in this case, a narcotic. For instance, you could be holding it or it could be in your pant pocket. So, in other words, you are in actual possession of things that are on your person.
Constructive possession, on the other hand, is when the marijuana is not on your person, but is in a place under your control, and you know what and where it is. To show constructive possession, the government has to prove the … Read More »
In recent weeks, the news has featured many stories on the growing trend of the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana use and possession. This past Election Day, voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. approved measures that would legalize marijuana possession. Colorado and Washington have already legalized marijuana. Many more states, including Maryland, have either decriminalized marijuana possession, or allowed it for medical use. A record number of Americans support decriminalization/legalization of marijuana, and now corporations are even now looking into creating national brands, including one centered around a certain reggae legend.
With all that is going on nationally and the obvious shift in public opinion, one could be forgiven for thinking that attitudes in Virginia have lightened up regarding marijuana. However, such a view would be mistaken: it remains the case that even simple possession of marijuana in the Old … Read More »
Defendants in Virginia criminal cases have very limited discovery rights. While in other states a defendant may be entitled to things like police reports, Virginia provides no right to discovery beyond the minimum that is required for due process under the U.S. Constitution—namely, the right to disclosure of exculpatory evidence.
While there are certainly Commonwealth’s Attorneys offices that practice “open file” discovery, and readily provide information to defense attorneys contained within police reports and witness statements that they are not required to disclose, not every office practices that way. Furthermore, unless the evidence is known by the defense to exist, it is up to the Commonwealth’s Attorney and their judgment to determine what evidence is exculpatory and subject to disclosure absent a court order.
As you can imagine, we defense attorneys have the goal of obtaining as much information as possible in order … Read More »
Virginia law prohibits both the illegal possession of controlled substances and possession with the intent to distribute controlled substances. Both offenses are addressed under Virginia Code Section 18.2-248. Conviction of possession with intent to distribute requires that the Commonwealth prove that an individual “intentionally and consciously possessed the controlled substance, either actually or constructively, with knowledge of its nature and character, together with the intent to distribute it.”
To prove intent to distribute, the Commonwealth has to introduce sufficient evidence showing that the substances at issue were intended for distribution and not just for the individual’s own personal use. Barring an admission by the defendant, how does the Commonwealth prove an individual’s intent with regard to the substances he or she possesses? Police officers do not necessarily witness a transaction—sometimes an individual’s interaction with law enforcement occurs long before or long … Read More »
The simple possession of marijuana may no longer be a crime in Washington state or Colorado, but it remains a criminal offense in Virginia. Furthermore, there is a clear line in the sand across which simple possession of marijuana becomes possession with intent to distribute marijuana: ½ ounce. Simple possession of marijuana, a violation of Virginia Code Section 18.2-250.1 is a misdemeanor; possession with intent to distribute more than ½ ounce becomes a felony.
If a person is in possession of ½ ounce or less of marijuana, the likelihood is that that he or she will be charged with simple possession. A first offense for simple possession carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail, a $500 fine and a 6 month driver’s license suspension. A second or subsequent conviction becomes a Class 1 Misdemeanor, which means that a person … Read More »