Hi, I’m Richard Waring and I’m a criminal defense attorney in Charleston, SC. Maybe you’ve gotten into a bad situation by being with another person or persons who have committed a crime, and you’re asking yourself, “Am I toast?” In other words, “am I going to be charged and prosecuted too?”
First off, this is not legal advice and is only intended for informational purposes. It’s always important to seek the advice of a good criminal defense attorney on situations like this. But, what I can do is tell you what I’ve seen based on situations that I’ve encountered in my own experience as a criminal lawyer in Charleston, SC.
The legal term that applies to these kinds of scenarios is called “mere presence.” And, in my experience it usually applies in two common situations. The first is when a defendant is present in a vehicle or house, often times with at least one other person, and drugs are found somewhere in the vehicle or house. Usually if the passenger of the vehicle is not the owner of the vehicle or if the defendant is just a guest in a house, if they have a good criminal attorney, often times they will argue that they were merely present in the vehicle in which drugs were found or that they were merely present in the house in which drugs were found, but that they had nothing to do with the drugs.
The second example that arises frequently is when a defendant is alleged to have been with someone else when a crime was committed. It could have been a robbery, an assault, a burglary, or some other crime, and the defendant argues that he or she didn’t take part in the robbery, assault, or burglary; rather, they argue they were merely present and therefore shouldn’t be held responsible for the crime.
With regard to scenario 1 where a defendant is a passenger in a car with others and drugs are found, if nobody claims ownership of the drugs, frequently everyone will get charged. I’ve seen tons of cases where a passenger is charged when the drugs aren’t near him or her and they don’t own the vehicle. That’s the just the way things work sometimes. But, that doesn’t mean that the charge can’t be fought against. The same holds true for scenario two when a defendant is with others when a crime such as an assault or robbery occurs.
Because previous cases that have been decided by the South Carolina Court of Appeals or South Carolina Supreme Court provide some guidance on these kinds of scenarios. Specifically, mere presence and prior knowledge that a crime was going to be committed, without more, is insufficient to constitute guilt. So, based on that case law, even if a defendant knew a crime was going to take place and was present at the scene, that’s not enough to constitute guilt.
However, presence at the scene by prearrangement to aid, encourage, or abet in the perpetration of a crime does constitute guilt as a principal offender. This is called accomplice liability and can be an avenue for the government to argue why you’re guilty. Maybe you’ve heard the term “the hand of one is the hand of all” thrown around in South Carolina before. We’ll go into that in another video, but just briefly, the hand of one is the hand of all theory revolves around the idea that a person who joins with another to accomplish an illegal purpose is liable criminally for everything done by the other person or persons incidental to the execution of the common design and purpose. A common example of that would be if two defendants plan to rob a victim and during the course of the robbery, one of the defendants ends up physically harming the victim. The other defendant could be held liable criminally for the injury caused to the victim even though that particular defendant didn’t do the injuring.
In the midst of these accomplice liability theories that the government brings is where these mere presence defenses can frequently be applicable. But, the mere presence defense doesn’t always work so well. For example, if a defendant passenger tries to claim that he was merely present in a vehicle in which drugs were found, but he’s got a scale and $5,000 in cash in his pockets, that’s frequently been a tough sell. On the other hand, if a defendant passenger is sitting in the back of the vehicle, doesn’t own the vehicle, and drugs are solely found in the center console, a mere presence defense could be more viable. Because in that latter situation, based on the case law I referenced earlier, if a defendant was merely present at the scene, but there’s no evidence that they were involved, or aided or abetted the others in committing a crime, the charges should be dismissed.
The main point is that it’s important to consult with a criminal defense attorney who knows how to evaluate your own case to see what defenses are available and which defenses have a good chance at success or not. And, if you’re in the Charleston, SC area, feel free to give me a call anytime, and we can go over the specific circumstances that you’re facing. Having dealt with scenarios that I discussed in this video on numerous occasions, I’ve got the experience to help you take a look at your case. Best of luck.
DISCLAIMER: This video is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. No action or inaction should be taken as a result of watching this video without first speaking with an attorney. No expectation of a result can be deduced from this video. This video also does not imply in any way that the Law Office of Richard Waring, LLC will achieve a better result on your case than any other attorney. No attorney/client relationship is formed by watching this video.