In scientific terms, heroin is a synthetic derivative of the opiate morphine, which is derived from the seeds of the opium poppy plant. Heroin can come in many different forms, although it most commonly presents as a white or beige odorless powder substance with a bitter taste. In other forms, heroin is a black sticky substance also known as “black tar.” In this form, heroin may be snorted or dissolved into water before being injected. Heroin can be smoked, snorted, or injected.
As a substance, heroin is a narcotic and an illegal drug in the United States. The legality of most drugs are determined by how it’s being used, as well as what it is being used for. Some drugs are illegal in some states, but legal in others, because of their use as prescribed medicine. Prescription drugs are considered legal for those who have been given a valid prescription for the drug.
However, if a person possesses or takes a prescription drug without a prescription from a doctor, they could be charged with a drug crime. Heroin constitutes a large portion of the illicit drug market. It is also one of the most dangerous illicit drugs on the market. This is due to the fact that it is extremely difficult to prevent heroin overdoses, partly due to the difficulties in determining the purity of the drug.
Controlled substances are generally regulated by the government as they can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and welfare. The Controlled Substances Act divides different classes of drugs into five schedules based on medicinal value, potential for abuse, public safety, and likelihood for dependency. While morphine is considered to be a useful opiate, the U.S. Drug and Enforcement Administration (the “DEA”) classifies heroin as a Schedule I controlled substance.
What this means is that not only is it classified as an illegal drug, it is said to have no recognized medical use, along with a high potential for abuse. It is important to note that controlled substances include both legal and illegal drugs. Thus, just because a drug is a controlled substance, that does not mean it is illegal or without medicinal value.
What are the Federal Penalties for Heroin?
The DEA has the responsibility of enforcing the Title 21 United States Code Controlled Substances Act. The Act prohibits the unauthorized possession, manufacturing, distributing, or dispensing of controlled substances. As heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance, the Act applies to it as a whole and as such, there are very severe penalties for its possession, distribution, etc.
Offenders suspected of possessing, selling, or using heroin could be subject to arrest and prosecution in a federal criminal court. Those convicted face strict penalties, including fines and prison sentencing. Under the federal system, the following penalties for the possession of heroin are most common:
- First Time Possession: A prison sentence of up to one year, or a minimum fine of $1,000, or both;
- Second Time Possession: No less than fifteen days but no more than two years in prison, or a minimum fine of $2,500, or both; and
- All Subsequent Convictions: Punishable by no less than ninety days but no more than three years in prison, or a minimum fine of $5,000, or both.
In addition, civil penalties may be levied up to $10,000 for possession of controlled substances such as heroin. This is true whether or not criminal prosecution is pursued. Those convicted of possession could also be fined for reasonable costs related to the investigation and prosecution of the offense. Additionally, penalties for possession with intent to distribute are potentially even more severe.
Drug trafficking is considered to be a much more severe crime than simple possession. Drug trafficking refers to selling, transporting, or illegally importing illegal controlled substances such as heroin. The following are the most common federal penalties for drug trafficking. It is important to note that these penalties vary according to the quantity of the controlled substances involved in the transaction.
- First Time Trafficking, Less Than One Kilogram: A first time offender who possesses and trafficks between 100 and 999 grams mixture of heroin will generally face between five and forty years in prison. If the offense resulted in death or serious bodily injury, the offender would likely face more severe penalties such as a prison sentence of no less than twenty years but no more than one life sentence. If the offender acted as an individual, they could face fines up to $5 million. These consequences increase for subsequent convictions; and
- First Time Trafficking, More Than One Kilogram: A first time offender who possesses and trafficks more than one kilogram of heroin will likely face prison time of no less than ten years but no more than one life sentence. However, if death or serious bodily injury was involved, the offender could be sentenced with prison time of no less than twenty years but no more than one life sentence. They will likely face fines up to but not to exceed more than $10 million. Penalties increase greatly for all subsequent convictions.
What are the State Penalties for Heroin Crimes?
As previously mentioned, penalties for crimes associated with heroin are determined by several factors. These factors include:
- Whether the crime involved buying, selling, trafficking, or possessing heroin;
- Whether this was a first, second, or subsequent charge;
- The amount of the drug in the offender’s possession; and
- What state the crime occurred in.
Although state laws vary, nearly every state adheres to the Uniform Narcotics Act. The Act makes heroin convictions a felony, with typical state possession charges including a prison sentence of up to seven years and/or a fine up to $50,000. Sales or distribution of heroin can result in penalties of up to life in prison, fines of up to $100,000, or both.
Do I Need a Lawyer If I Am Facing Charges for Heroin Crimes?
If you are in a situation in which you are being accused of a crime involving heroin, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your rights and options, as well as how your specific state prosecutes such crimes.
Additionally, an attorney will be able to determine if any legal defenses are available to you based on the specifics of your case. Finally, an attorney can represent you in criminal court as needed.