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What Are Drug Charges?

Drug charges derive from an individual who has been caught manufacturing, growing, trafficking, distributing, or possessing illegal drugs or controlled substance. The legal penalties associated with drug charges can range from very simple traffic citations, to very serious punishments attached to felony charges. The federal Controlled Substance Act has classified drugs into five schedules based on the potential for abuse and whether the drug has been accepted for medical use. Each schedule is governed by different rules regarding drug production, sale, possession, and use. The punishment for each schedule varies as well.

Drug crimes that are classified as traffic citations (for example, possession of a small amount of marijuana in some states) usually result only in a fine. Misdemeanor drug charges may result in criminal fees and jail sentences of no greater than one year.  Felony drug charges will result in very severe consequences, such as expensive criminal fines and time in prison for more than one year.

The seriousness of a drug charge can depend on many different factors. These include:

  • The type of drug and amount of involved (these are classified according to the Controlled Substances Act, which places each drug into a “schedule” or class)
  • Whether the drug was for personal use or for distribution of controlled substances
  • Whether the charge is a first-time offense or a repeat offense
  • Whether children were involved
  • Whether there was dangerous weapons involved in any distribution of drugs
  • In addition, possession or distribution of drugs that involves minors, or that occurs near a school zone, will result in more serious consequences.

What Are the Most Common Types of Drug Charges?

Drug charges can involve several different types of actions, not simply the possession of the substance. Examples of drug charges include:

  • Distribution or sale of drugs: federal and state laws prohibit the sale of illegal drugs, or the illegal sale of prescription drugs. Oftentimes, possession of a certain amount of a substance includes an automatic presumption of an intent to sell or distribute the drugs.
  • Manufacturing drugs:  Cultivating, growing, producing, and manufacturing illegal drugs is also a serious type of drug crime.
  • Trafficking: Drug trafficking is a similar type of charge as distribution of drugs, except that it usually involves larger operations and more widespread distribution of the drugs. For example, trafficking charges can involve several other types of illegal conduct, such as smuggling drugs from outside of the U.S., and transportation of drugs across state lines.
  • DUI:  A large number of criminal laws cover the illegal use of drugs. This can include driving while intoxicated or being intoxicated in a public place (especially where the intoxication leads places others in physical danger.
  • Illegal Prescription of drugs

What Are Some Defenses to Drug Charges?

If you are charged with possession of drugs for personal use or with the intent to sell, there are many defenses that can be applied to your case. There are also many different types of defenses to drug crimes. Some common defenses include:

  • Unlawful Search and Seizure: The Fourth Amendment guarantees that the right to due process of law, including lawful search and seizure procedures before an arrest can occur. The defendant can use this defense to state that the drugs that were found in his possession were seized illegally.
  • Coercion - i.e., someone forced you to hold drugs under threat of violence
  • Unwitting Possession - this is where the defendant didn’t know that they had drugs on their person or in their belongings (such as when drugs are planted on a person without their knowledge)
  • Drugs Belonged to Someone Else
  • Not Actually Drugs: The drugs can be sent to a crime lab to determine if the drugs in possession of the defendant was actually drugs
  • Entrapment: Entrapment happens when police officers trick or induce a suspect to commit a crime he or she otherwise may not have committed
  • Medical Marijuana Exception: The medical use of marijuana may be a defense in states that have legalized marijuana as long as the defendant can show proof of a medical marijuana license

Defenses to drug charges can often help the defendant obtain a reduced sentence.  In some cases, a strong defense can result in the charges being completely dropped, depending on the circumstances.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Drug Charges?

Drug charges can sometimes be the most serious types of criminal cases under state and federal laws. If have any questions, or need legal assistance with drug charges, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Your attorney can provide you with advice on how to proceed, and can represent you in court if you need to attend a court hearing.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 07-28-2016 10:41 PM PDT

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