Drug charges are criminal charges that occur when an individual has been found doing one or more of the following actions involving a controlled substance:
The legal penalties that are associated with drug charges may range from a simple traffic citation to a very serious punishment associated with a felony charge.
The federal law, the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), classifies drugs into five schedules based on their potential for abuse as well as whether or not the drug has been accepted for medical use. The substances are classified into five schedules, Schedule I-V.
Each schedule is governed by different rules regarding the production, sale, possession, and use of the substances. The punishment for each schedule also varies.
A drug crime that is classified as a traffic citation, such as possession of a small amount of maijuana in some states, usually only results in a fine. A misdemeanor drug charge may result in criminal fines and a jail sentence of no more than one year.
Felony drug charges result in the most severe consequences, such as hefty criminal fines and prison sentences of more than one year. The seriousness of a drug charge may depend on several different factors, including:
- The type of drug and amount of drug that was involved;
- Whether the drug was for possessed for personal use or for distribution purposes;
- Whether the charge is a first-time offense or a repeat offense;
- Whether children were involved;
- Whether there were dangerous weapons involved in the distribution of the drugs; and
- The possession or distribution of drugs that involves minors, or that occurs near a school zone, will result in more serious consequences.
What is a Controlled Substance?
In general, a controlled substance is a substance that is regulated by the government. Typically, these are substances which can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s health and welfare.
As noted above, the CSA has divided substances into 5 schedules. It is important to note that controlled substances may include both legal and illegal drugs.
What are Some Common Types of Illegal Drugs?
The legality of most substances is determined by how the substance is being used and for what it is being used. For example, marijuana has been legalized in many states. Some states allow recreational use while others only allow use with a medical prescription.
Prescription drugs are considered legal for individuals who possess a valid prescription. However, if an individual possesses or uses a prescription drug without having a valid prescription from a physician, they may be charged with a drug crime.
Marijuana is the most commonly illegally used drug in the United States. This is true even in states which prohibit its use and possession. In recent years, there have been numerous changes to marijuana laws.
Other drugs that are commonly abused and may result in criminal charges include:
- Ecstasy; and
- PCP, also known as angel dust.
What are the Most Common Types of Drug Charges?
Drug charges may involve one or more of several different types of activities, not just the possession of the substance. Examples of drug charges may include:
Both state and federal laws prohibit the sale of illegal drugs as well as the illegal sale of prescription drugs. In most states, the possession of a certain amount of a drug includes an automatic presumption that the individual intended to sell or distribute the drugs.
Drug manufacturing is considered a serious offense. It may involve the following activities:
- Cultivating a substance;
- Growing a substance;
- Producing a substance; and
- Manufacturing a substance.
A drug trafficking charge is similar to a distribution charge except that it typically involves a larger operation and a more widespread distribution of the drug. For example, trafficking often involves other types of illegal conduct such as smuggling the drugs from a location outside of the United States and transporting the drugs across state lines.
A charge of driving while intoxicated can also involve illegal drugs. This may include operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of a controlled substance, especially when this action puts others in physical danger.
The illegal possession of prescription drugs is a common charge involving prescription drugs. In some cases, an individual may sell their prescription, such as pain medicine, to another individual, who is then in illegal possession of a prescription drug because they do not have a valid prescription.
Are There Any Possible Immigration Consequences to Drug Charges?
Yes, there may be immigration consequences to drug charges. If the drug charge results in a felony conviction, it may have a detrimental effect on an individual’s immigration status.
For example, a drug trafficking conviction can make an individual subject to immediate removal from the United States. Additionally, a criminal history of similar drug convictions may make an individual ineligible for entry into the U.S. They may also be eligible to apply for United States citizenship.
What are Some Defenses to Drug Charges?
There are some defenses which may be available when an individual is facing drug charges. If they are charged with possession or drugs for personal use or with the intent to sell, there are many defenses that may apply, as well as in other types of cases.
Common defense to drug charges may include:
- Unlawful Search and Seizure: The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that individuals have the right to due process of law, including lawful search and seizure procedures prior to an arrest. A defendant may use this defense in cases where the drugs that were found in their possession were not legally seized;
- Coercion: Coercion occurs when an individual forces another individual to hold drugs under the threat of violence;
- Unwitting Possession: This occurs when a defendant did not know that they had drugs on their person or in their belongings. For example, when drugs are planted on an individual without their knowledge;
- The drugs belonged to another individual;
- The substance was not actually drugs: The suspected drugs can be sent to a lab for testing to determine if the substance was actually drugs;
- Entrapment: Entrapment occurs when law enforcement tricks or induces an innocent individual into committing a crime they otherwise would not have committed; and
- The medical marijuana exception: Medical marijuana use may be a defense in a state that has legalized marijuana so long as the individual has a medical marijuana license.
In many cases, these defenses can assist a defendant in obtaining a reduced sentence. In some cases, a strong defense may cause the charges to be completely dropped.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Drug Charges?
It is essential to have the help of a drug lawyer for any drug charges you may face. Drug charges may be some of the most serious types of changes under federal and state laws with serious consequences.
Your attorney can review your case, determine if any defenses are available, and represent you during any court proceedings. An attorney is your best chance at getting your charges reduced or even dismissed.