Scientifically speaking, heroin is a synthetic derivative of morphine, which is derived from the seeds of the opium poppy plant. Heroin may appear in a variety of different forms, it most commonly appears as a white to beige odorless powder substance with bitter taste.

In other instances, it may appear as a black sticky substance (known as “black tar”) that is either snorted or dissolved in water and injected. Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected.

The illegal substance heroin constitutes a large part of the illicit drug market, and is also one of the most dangerous drugs on the market. This is because it is extremely difficult to prevent overdoses on account of difficulties in determining the purity of the drug.

In contrast to the medically useful opiate morphine, the U.S. Drug and Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) classifies heroin as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that it is classified as an illegal drug with no recognized medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Congress gave the DEA the responsibility of enforcing the Title 21 United States Code Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the unauthorized possession, manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing of controlled substances, such as heroin.

What are Federal Penalties that a Person Who Uses Heroin May Face?

As noted above, heroin is designated as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Thus there are very severe penalties for the use, possession, or sale of heroin.

In fact, offenders suspected of possessing, selling, or using heroin may be subject to arrest and prosecution in a federal criminal court. Those that are convicted face strict penalties including significant fines and prison sentences.

The following are the typical penalties for the possession of heroin under the federal system:

  • First Time Possession Charge: A first time possession charge will result in a prison sentence of up to 1 year in prison and a minimum fine of $1,000, or both;
  • Second Time Possession Charge: A second time possession charge is punishable by not less than 15 days but not more than 2 years in prison and a minimum fine of $2,500, or both; and
  • Subsequent Convictions: Subsequent convictions of possessing heroin are punishable by not less than 90 days but not more than 3 years in prison and a minimum fine of $5,000, or both.

In addition to the above charges, civil penalties of up to $10,000 may also be imposed for possession of controlled substances, like heroin, whether or not criminal prosecution is pursued.

Persons convicted of possession may also be fined for the reasonable costs of the investigation and prosecution of the offense. Additionally, penalties for possession with intent to distribute are potentially even more severe.

Drug trafficking charges are much more severe than a simple possession charge. Drug trafficking refers to the crime of selling, transporting, or illegally importing illegal controlled substances, such as heroin.

The following are the penalties for drug trafficking, which vary according to the quantity of the controlled substances involved in the transaction:

  • First Time Heroin Drug Trafficking Charge (Less Than One Kilogram): A first time offender that possesses and trafficks between 100 and 999 grams mixture of heroin faces criminal penalties of between five years to forty years in prison; and
    • However, if the offense resulted in death or serious bodily injury, then the offender would face more severe penalties, such as a prison sentence, not less than twenty years or more than a life sentence. Further, if the offender was an individual they could face fines of up to $5 million. These penalties increase for subsequent convictions.
  • First Time Heroin Drug Trafficking Charge (More Than One Kilogram): A first time offender that possesses and trafficks more than one kilogram of heroin faces prison time of not less than ten years and not more than life.
    • However, if death or serious bodily injury occurred, than the person faces a prison sentence of not less than twenty years or more than life. Additionally, the individual will face fines of not more than $10 million. These penalties increase drastically for subsequent convictions.

What are State Penalties that a Person Who Uses Heroin may Face?

Although state laws vary, nearly all of the states subscribe to the Uniform Narcotics Act which makes heroin convictions a felony. Typical state possession charges of heroin include a prison sentence of up to seven years, up to a $50,000 fine, or both. However, sales or distribution of heroin carry penalties of up to life in prison, more commonly between ten to fifteen years, fines of up to $100,000 or both.

Should I Hire an Attorney if I am Facing Heroin State and Federal Charges?

As can be seen, heroin charges are very serious and a conviction will result in severe criminal penalties. Thus, if you are in a situation where you are being accused of a heroin related crime, seeking out the counsel of a licensed and well-qualified criminal defense attorney can be essential.

An experienced attorney can help analyze the particulars of your case, as well as advise you how to proceed best in the defense of the charges brought against you. Further, an experienced attorney will be beneficial in explaining the practices of your local jurisdiction for any state charges brought against you.