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Possession - Possession Versus Ownership, Actual Possession, Constructive Possession, Criminal Possession, Possession And Intent

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The ownership, control, or occupancy of a thing, most frequently land or PERSONAL PROPERTY, by a person.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said that "there is no word more ambiguous in its meaning than possession" (National Safe Deposit Co. v. Stead, 232 U.S. 58, 34 S. Ct. 209, 58 L. Ed. 504 [1914]). Depending on how and when it is used, the term possession has a variety of possible meanings. As a result, possession, or lack of possession, is often the subject of controversy in civil cases involving real and personal property and criminal cases involving drugs and weapons—for example, whether a renter is entitled to possession of an apartment or whether a criminal suspect is in possession of stolen property.

The idea of possession is as old as the related concepts of private property and ownership. Our modern possession laws originated in the ancient Roman doctrines of possessio. English NATURAL LAW inherited most of the Roman possession ideas, and later the British brought their law of possession to the American colonies. Following the WAR OF INDEPENDENCE, state and federal courts continued to use and expand upon the historical notions of possession.


Lafave, Wayne R., and Austin W. Scott, Jr. 1995. Substantive Criminal Law. St. Paul, Minn.: West.

Singer, George H. 1992. "Constructive Possession of Controlled Substances: A North Dakota Look at a Nationwide Problem." North Dakota Law Review 68.

Snyder, David V. 1992. "Symposium: Relationships Among Roman Law, Common Law, and Modern Civil Law." Tulane Law Review 66.

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