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Is someone legally responsible for anything found in their car?

Iowa lawmakers have created a relatively thorough list of prohibited substances. Numerous prescription medications are subject to state control, and those who unlawfully possess those drugs could face serious charges.

Prescription medications and outright banned substances can trigger someone’s arrest and prosecution. Sometimes, police officers catch people with drugs on their person, but other times, officers simply find drugs close to someone. When police officers find drugs in a vehicle during a traffic stop, they frequently move to prosecute the owner or driver of the vehicle.

Is it always the owner or driver who is responsible for drugs found under one of the seats in the car or somewhere in the trunk?

The state often assumes the driver is guilty

Police officers and prosecutors often operate under the assumption that criminal defendants will lie. They assume that someone who possesses illegal drugs would want to claim ignorance when confronted with the drug found in their vehicle. However, the shock people express when officers find something illegal isn’t always fake. Many people had no idea there was anything illegal in their vehicle when they agreed to a search.

When developing a drug possession charge after a traffic stop, the state typically has to establish that someone knew about the presence of drugs in a vehicle and in theory had control over them. A driver would not always know about the presence of a prohibited substance in their vehicle, as passengers may have brought those drugs into the vehicle and hidden them during a traffic stop.

A lack of fingerprints on the drug packaging could be a good starting point for someone’s defense in that situation. Other times, there may not be an immediately obvious explanation, the placement of the drugs and numerous other factors will influence whether or not their mere presence in the vehicle is enough to justify criminal charges against the owner or driver of that vehicle.

For some defendants accused of a possession charge after a traffic stop, establishing that they didn’t know about or have control over the drugs that police found could be the starting point for a defense strategy. Learning more about Iowa’s controlled substance laws may benefit those hoping to fight pending charges.