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Explaining The Concept of Occupier’s Liability in Drug Matters

Possession Does Not Equal Ownership – Explaining the Concept of Occupier’s Liability in Drug Matters

The concept of ‘occupier’s liability’ when it comes to possession of drugs is often misunderstood by members of the public. Essentially it means that a person can face a criminal charge for possession of illegal drugs found in their house or car, for example, even if they do not own the substances. We’ll explain more about how this concept works in this article.

  • Under Queensland’s Drugs Misuse Act, the occupier of a place is deemed to be in possession of drugs found at the place they control unless they can demonstrate they had no knowledge the drugs were present or any reason to suspect they were there.

A person is regarded to be in possession of something if they have both knowledges of it and control over its location.

The practical import of this legislative provision is that a person who hosts people who bring drugs to premises they control – at a party, for instance – or shares a house with a person who uses illegal drugs, can face criminal charges if they are aware of the drugs. Those who own the drugs and those who use them also face prosecution.

So who is an occupier?

At the heart of many legal challenges to drugs charges is whether a person is actually an occupier of a premises and therefore liable to be charged with possession, and whether they could ‘reasonably’ have known about the presence of the drugs.

The definition of an occupier can be quite broad but typically includes the owner of a premises, but also a tenant or any other person who controls who is excluded from the place. This includes any person who cares, manages or supervises the premises, anyone who conducts business there, or someone who typically resides at the property. Multiple occupiers of a property, such as a sharehouse, could all be held liable for the presence of drugs at the property provided they exercise some control of admitting or excluding strangers to the property.

Importantly a person does not need to be present at the property to be deemed an occupier, but there does needs to be proof the person had, or purported to have, a right to exclude others from the place.

Are there defences to this type of charge?

It’s up to a person deemed to be in possession of illegal drugs because they were an occupier of the premises where they were found to disprove the allegation. To do so the accused needs to prove that on the ‘balance of probabilities’, they did not know and could not have reasonably known or suspected drugs could be present on the property.

This can be a difficult task in situations where one member of a share household, for example, is found in possession of illegal drugs. An occupier may need to rely on an admission from the person who owned the drugs, or the fact the illicit substance was kept hidden from other housemates, to successfully disprove the charge – the expert advice of criminal law specialists is essential in this situation.

Discuss your case with experienced legal professionals

Facing a criminal charge based on occupier’s liability for drug possession can be a stressful and confusing time, particularly where a person genuinely had no knowledge or reason to suspect drugs were present at a property. Seeking the guidance of experienced criminal lawyers such as our team at PD Law is the first vital step to take in answering such a charge. We will give you clear, relevant advice to help you organise your case and defend the allegations. Contact us today for an initial consultation.