have in one’s possession
Posted: 30 October 2007 09:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A minor British royal has been described in several papers as having ‘had in his possession an envelope containing cocaine.”
Is “in his possession” a legal term? Why not just “had” or, if necessary, “with him” or “on him” or “about his person” or “on his person”? Is it to distinguish from, say, “in the glove compartment of his Bentley” where ownership could be legally contested?

I’d always assumed it was a tautology but maybe not in legalese or journalese. If I say “I have in my possession a first edition of Fowler” does it mean in my jacket pocket?

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Posted: 30 October 2007 11:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Maybe one of the lawyers will jump in, but it seems to me that “in one’s possession” fills a useful semantic niche.

“I have a first edition of Fowler.” (I own a copy, but it may not be here.)

“I have a first edition of Fowler on me.” (I am carrying a copy on my person.)

“I have a first edition of Fowler in my possession.” (There is a copy belonging to me that is immediately accessible to me; it could be on the desk at which I am sitting, in the car in which I am riding, in my suitcase next to me in the hotel room, etc.)

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Posted: 30 October 2007 11:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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In legalese it would be, I think, an imprecision. There are many different types of possession under the law, and obviously much of a lawyer’s time is devoted to hammering out those distinctions. One primary split is probably “actual” versus “constructive.” The latter imputes some kind of liability. You could also have possession of something but not ownership. Possession doesn’t imply location, AFAIK.

Posted without seeing Dave’s comment. I’d say his last comment is generally true.

[ Edited: 30 October 2007 11:44 AM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 30 October 2007 11:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I am fairly sure that there is a good deal of case law, perhaps also statute law, on what constitutes “possession”, particularly of things like drugs, guns, and so on.  “Have” has an enormous number of senses, and “have in one’s possession” is, I believe, more precise, especially in legal terms.

See for instance http://www.lectlaw.com/def2/p057.htm

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Posted: 30 October 2007 12:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Yes, Doc, it is more precise, now that you put it that way. I’ve been searching my memory and without going to a legal reference (but having seen your linked site) I think the legal distinction is that possession implies “control” rather than location. In other words, (I believe) you could be in possession of something in your house or in a safe deposit box even if you’re on the other side of the country.

I should have also said that constructive possession implies a variety of things, including rights, liabilities, etc.

Thanks for the Welcome Back in the other thread, by the way. I expected you’d get the pun on iron pyrite. I’ll probably email Dave once I can find his link.

[ Edited: 30 October 2007 12:29 PM by Iron Pyrite ]
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Posted: 30 October 2007 03:22 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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venomousbede - 30 October 2007 09:35 AM

… Why not just “had” or, if necessary, “with him” or “on him” or “about his person” or “on his person”?

I’m curious… do you honestly believe that “with him” imparts the same feeling as “in his possession”?

Don’t you think that sounding like legalese is exactly what the writer intended?

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Posted: 30 October 2007 06:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Black’s Law Dictionary defines “possession” as “[h]aving control over a thing with the intent to have and to exercise control.”

I recall a case when I was a law clerk where an ex-convict had been arrested walking down the middle of a boulevard on New Years Eve with a revolver in his waist band and charged with being a felon in possession of firearm (a sentence carrying a mandatory minimum ten year sentence).  The defense was that one of the elements of possession was not satisfied because he was to drunk to know that he was in possession of the weapon.  I recall that one of the predicate offenses for this unfortunate guy was that he had stolen a lion cub from the local zoo a few years before.  The jury acquited him—I think largely out of sympathy.

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Posted: 01 November 2007 07:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Happy Dog, it was the meaning and usage I was uncertain of - whether it is a valid legal term (which it seems to be after other posts for which thanks) or an unnecessary stylistic affectation.
I always favour the plain words where possible rather than badge-of-eloquence stuff like endeavour for try, veritable plethora, etc. but I see your point. “On him” would be too slangy but “with him” might hack it, at least in journalese. There might also be a difference in how tabloids and ‘quality’ papers report shock horror stories like this one.

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