I was wondering if a person could be charged with selling something like drugs, illegal firearms, or stolen items if they are never caught possessing them?

I have seen in movies where they will take payment and then say that the location will be given to the buyer later via a call or text. Is this enough evidence to charge the seller with crime? I have heard phrases like possession is 9/10 of the law. Then you hear of kingpins like El Chapo getting arrested and it makes you wonder. Seems like most kingpins never touch the merchandise at least on TV. Is it the same in real law?

Could a dark web seller be charged selling drugs if they are never caught possessing them? You hear of dark web drug sales a lot on the net. Is this why it's so common?

3 Answers 3


As an example, read Ross Ulbricht - Wikipedia. He was convicted of "money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics by means of the Internet," not the actual possession of drugs.

He thought he was smart enough to escape culpability if he didn't directly handle the actual merchandise sold on the Silk Road (marketplace) - Wikipedia, but there was overwhelming evidence that he conspired to sell the merchandise, the merchandise was illegal, that he had proxies to accept money and launder it and proxies to ship the merchandise, and that's what convinced the jury.


Lots of people sell things that they don't actually have in their posession right now. If you want to buy item X and are willing to pay $1,000 for it, and I don't have the item right now but I know where I can get it for $800, I will sell it to you and put the $200 in my pocket. That's especially the case if I know a wholesaler where I can get any number of that item (within reason).

If your drug dealer knows a wholesaler, where he can get large amounts of drugs for a low price at any time, it is quite possible for him to sell illegal drugs, without having them in his possession.


To sell something is to pass title to, and legal control of, that thing to another for a price. One can sell something without ever having possession, and if the sale is illegal, proof of this is sufficient to lead to a conviction.

The case in which a person receives money and says "Someone will call you and tell you where to pick up your drugs", and such a call is later made and the drugs found at the designated place would be enough to convict the seller. The jury would need to be convinced that the person had control of the drugs, and caused them to be transferred in return for the price. But if that was proved to the satisfaction of the jury, a conviction would be possible.

  • And if the drugs don't turn up, would that be fraud (taking the money and not delivering)?
    – gnasher729
    Nov 4, 2018 at 15:53
  • It would, but the buyer is not likely to take legal action. Nov 4, 2018 at 17:30
  • I'm a little puzzled by the "legal control" in your first sentence, for a substance that can't be legally possessed. Nov 5, 2018 at 17:43
  • @David Thornley: One can still be in a positions of owner ship, and therefore of control, even if doing so is against a law. Nov 5, 2018 at 20:25

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