constructive possession

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Constructive possession is the legal possession of an object that is not in the person’s direct physical control. Like other “constructive” meanings, constructive possession legally functions as actual possession in a variety of ways. 

  • In criminal law, establishing constructive possession is often done to further prosecutions for possession crimes, such as possession of illegal drugs. 
  • In property law, establishing constructive possession grants the owner the right to obtain physical control and/or a variety of rights over someone else’s physical control of that property. 

Generally, for a court to find that a person had constructive possession of an object, the person must have had knowledge of the object, and as well as the ability to control it. 

  • For example, someone with keys to a safe deposit box may have constructive possession to the contents of that box. 

As seen in U.S. v. Bailey, where mere existence of a firearm in a borrowed car could not uphold constructive possession, constructive possession cannot be established on the basis of ability to control alone.  

[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]