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Proximity to drugs can be your undoing says Fairfax criminal lawyer

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Proximity to drugs- Virginia defense- Image of noose

Proximity to contraband can be like playing with fire says Fairfax criminal lawyer

Proximity to contraband is the last situation you want to be in. As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know how unfair are applicable Virginia and federal appellate caselaw that allows contraband convictions for being within arms reach of unlawful drugs, unlawfully present weapons, and other contraband. Shaunacy Roy Bishop learned that lesson the hard way, when the Virginia Court of Appeals this week affirmed Bishop’s bench trial conviction for possession with intent to distribute a Schedule I or II controlled substance (methamphetamine) in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-248, and firearm possession while engaging in drug possession with intent to distribute (which firearm conviction mandates 5 years mandatory minimum incarceration without suspending any of it), in violation of Virginia Code § 18.2-308.4Bishop v. Virginia, Record No. 1057-21-2 (Va. App. Aug. 16, 2022) (unpublished).

Proximity to illegal drugs atop your cellphone and of a firearm in a backpack that has a firearm scope with your name is likely going to get you prosecuted

Bishop’s downfall was his proximity to the methamphetamine that was within easy reach (on top of his admission of ownership of the cellphone atop which rested seized meth) and to a backpack with the firearm that Bishop was barred from possessing, with his name on a firearm scope in the bag. Bishop’s defense would have been stronger had he not admitted the phone was his and had his name been found nowhere in the seized book bag, Bishop. 

What do I do to avoid the fate of so many who get Virginia drug convictions for proximity to them?

The first answer to the foregoing proximity question of course is to avoid engaging in criminal activity in the first place. The second answer is to avoid shady situations and shady people whose activities you know might get caught in an arrest, prosecution and possibly even conviction. The latter approach takes being aware of one’s surroundings and being aware that the law of possessing contraband is kn0wledge, dominion and control over the contraband. Clodfelter v. Commonwealth, 218 Va. 619, 623 (1977). I understand how we can overlook the telltale signs of such risks.

Learn from my risking arrest and prosecution for not inspecting my luggage and for being near people smoking opium

As I have reported before, I myself put myself at such risk — and when in countries with harsher criminal laws and procedures than the United States — as recently as after taking the bar exam. Soon after taking the bar exam after law school, I flew to Singapore for the start of a wonderful four-country Southeast Asian trip. An acquaintance from Singapore who was giving me advance help navigating the city state asked if I would alleviate his burden of relocating there soon himself, by my bringing one of his suitcases there. When I arrived near midnight at the luggage carousel area and saw submachine gun toting security, I recognized my poor decisionmaking in bringing a suitcase that I had never inspected and that in fact was locked without my knowing the combination, to a country that to this day hangs people for certain drug offenses. (And these days, airport security wants to be able to open suitcases). But still I did not learn my lesson sufficiently when a few days later in the Golden Triangle, not only once but twice I was on my mattress in the landlord’s hut while over half of my seven fellow trekkers smoked opium in close proximity to me in the same one-room hut. I do not anticipate that police would have charitably not arrested me had they arrived during such unlawful activity. Let my foregoing risks be a warning to you.

What should I do if charged with a Virginia drug or firearm offense?

If you are prosecuted for an alleged Virginia drug offense or firearm violation, then it is important timely to obtain a qualified lawyer to fight for you. Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan Katz has successfully defended hundreds of drug defendants and scores of weapons defendants. For a case like Bishop’s — alleging drug and firearm possession — Jon Katz pursues suppressing the evidence in the first place, and, if that does not work, creating the most persuasive story and argument about reasonable doubt that the defendant had knowledge, dominion and control over the contraband. In the event of a conviction, Jon pursues the most lenient possible sentence. Call 703-383-1100 for your free in-person initial consultation with Jon Katz about your court-pending Virginia DUI, felony or misdemeanor case.