Every day, people all over the United States get arrested because they were in the "wrong place at the wrong time". Innocent people really do find themselves victims of circumstance. These nightmare scenarios occur most commonly when friends give friends rides.
who's responsible for the drugs in my car?
Think twice before an acquaintance gives you a ride OR before you give an acquaintance a ride. Invest a few seconds and ask yourself: How well do I really know this person? We’ve represented hundreds of clients who had no clue that their acquaintance was in possession of any type of drug, i.e., weed, blow, molly, ecstasy, or you name it.
We have been trained as children to avoid strangers. The mantra we heard a million times was: “Stranger Danger”. The reasons for being programmed as children with this mantra is obvious. This blog is not about child-rearing, it’s about making good, mature decisions as an adult. More specifically, it explains how a harmless “lift” or “ride” can turn into a serious felony arrest and thus, the beginning of a real dark period for the defendant and his/her family.
In general, we all exercise good judgment when deciding whose car we get into. We usually accept rides from co-workers, classmates, neighbors, family and friends. However, as a criminal defense attorney, I am compelled to warn you about the dangers of get into a car with an acquaintance. All too often, a harmless “lift” can become a descent into a world of desolate despair.
Most of our clients who are arrested for marijuana or other drug possession charges happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place is usually in the car of an acquaintance. The wrong time is when a law enforcement official stops that acquaintance for a minor traffic infraction. The events that unfold once that traffic stop starts quickly result in the arrest of an innocent person.
It’s a daily occurrence for high school and college students to hitch a ride from an acquaintance on the way to and from school, parties or social events. The offer and acceptance of a ride happens in seconds. Not much thought goes into the decision-making process.
It goes something like this:
Driver: “Need a ride?”
Passenger: “Sure. Can you drop me off on Main St.?”
Driver: “Hop in!”
A few minutes later, a patrolman is activating his lights/sirens and that free ride turns out to be very expensive.
We have represented countless high school and college students who got caught up in a difficult legal situation that could have easily been avoided. Our firm is constantly retained to represent defendants charged with drug crimes because they were caught riding in the same vehicle as a person with controlled dangerous substances.
In New Jersey, once police perform a motor vehicle stop, they are legally permitted (after establishing probable cause) to conduct a search of that vehicle. The instant any (CDS) is discovered, police almost always arrest everyone in that vehicle just for being in that vehicle. The reason for arresting everyone in the vehicle is so that the prosecutor can conduct their own investigation. The cops make the arrest and the prosecutor sorts it out. The secret to never finding yourself in this situation is this: never accept or give rides to people you barely know. If you know one person really well, but never met the other two passengers, don't get in that car! The potential for problems is too great.
A top student could be on their way to to graduating summa cum laude, with a full ride to an Ivy League school, and that naïve, nanosecond-decision to accept a ride (from an acquaintance) could land their picture on the front page of the county paper. Every parent’s worst nightmare is opening the paper to find the picture of their child with a title that reads: “Super Student Arrested for Drug Possession”. (real case)
This also works the other way around. It can be the clean and honest driver who gives a ride to an acquaintance who is in possession of the illegal drugs. The CDS could be on their person (a few crack rocks); it could be in their backpack (a kilo of coke); it could be in their gym bag (100 baggies of weed) with a sophisticated, super-sensitive scale to alleviate their user's concerns that they are purchasing the right weight of their drug of choice.
One case that we handled involved a situation in which a teenager gave an “acquaintance” a ride home from a party. The acquaintance played in a rock concert that night and was carrying his guitar case. THE GUITAR PLAYER hopped in to the INNOCENT KID'S (driver) car and they drove off. Soon after merging onto the highway they were stopped for A MINOR TRAFFIC VIOLATION.
When the policeman approached the driver’s side window, he claimed to have smelled a strong odor of marijuana emanating from the vehicle. This observation served to establish probable cause to search the vehicle. Within minutes of searching the vehicle, the police recovered 250 grams of CDS stuffed inside a sock and concealed inside THE guitar. The driver of the vehicle was arrested and indicted (charged with a felony) for carrying more than 250 grams of marijuana. The driver had no idea that the drugs (CDS) were even in his car. The driver and the drug dealer met in gym class and knew little, if anything, about each other. now they are co-defendants and facing between 5-10 years in state prison.
This is the type of scenario that teens could easily avoid by not offering or accepting rides from people they barely know. We advise all of our clients to err on the side of caution and refuse rides from people they barely know. It is equally important to avoid offering people rides unless they know them very well and trust them.
It takes courage to reject an acquaintance at a party who asks for or demands a ride, but it takes more courage to defend against a felony drug arrest. It is much better to have a stranger (acquaintance) momentarily disappointed with you than to find yourself defending a felony drug charge.
In my many years of helping people prove their innocence, I always share Ben Franklin's advice:
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
Helping clients is our passion. Helping people accused of committing criminal offenses is why we became defense attorneys. We pride ourselves in outworking other lawyers through our exhaustive preparation and absolute determination to get the best possible results for all of our clients.
About the Author
Mr. Peyrouton is a Criminal Defense Attorney in Bergen County, NJ.