All fifty states, as well as the federal government, have laws addressing the possession, use, manufacture, and sale of certain drugs. Each crime has its own standards and penalties, especially in terms of the severity of the crime committed.

Drug crimes generally include:

  • Possession: Drug possession is the most common offense, and charges frequently arise when a person is knowingly in possession of a drug without authorization. An example of this would be when a person has a prescription drug without a valid prescription. Drug possession charges consider the amount of the drug, and penalties may vary depending on whether the amount would be for personal use or for sale and distribution;
  • Manufacturing: Drug manufacturing involves creating or “cooking” a synthetic chemical substance, or extracting a natural drug. Packaging a drug for resale could also count as manufacturing;
  • Use: The use of illegal drugs can be a criminal act, especially when the drug requires a prescription from a doctor and the offender does not have the required prescription; and
  • Distribution: This includes the sale, smuggling, trafficking, and/or delivery of illegal substances.

A controlled substance is a drug that is regulated by the government. Generally speaking, these substances can have a detrimental effect on a person’s health and welfare, and are strictly controlled by government regulation. The Controlled Substances Act classifies drugs into five schedules based on their:

  • Medicinal value;
  • Potential for abuse;
  • Safety to the public; and
    Likelihood for dependency.

What Is Heroin?

In scientific terms, heroin is a synthetic derivative of the opiate morphine, which is derived from the seeds of the opium poppy plant. Heroin most commonly presents as a white or beige odorless powder substance with a bitter taste. In other forms, heroin is a black and sticky substance that is 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 both a narcotic and an illegal drug in the United States. To reiterate, the legality of most drugs is determined by how it is 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.

The most obvious example of this would be cannabis. Prescription drugs are considered to be 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 legitimate prescription from a doctor, they could be charged with a drug crime as was previously mentioned.

Heroin constitutes a significant portion of the illicit drug market, and is considered to be one of the most dangerous illicit drugs on the market. This is because it is extremely difficult to prevent heroin overdoses, partly due to the difficulties in determining the purity of the drug.

While morphine is considered to be a useful opiate, the U.S. Drug and Enforcement Administration (“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 and has a high potential for abuse. It is important to note that controlled substances include both legal and illegal drugs; as such, just because a drug is a controlled substance, that does not mean that it is illegal or without medicinal value.

What Are The Federal Penalties For Crimes Associated With Heroin?

The DEA enforces the Title 21 United States Code Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the unauthorized:

  • Possession;
  • Manufacturing;
  • Distributing; and/or
  • Dispensing of controlled substances.

Because heroin is a Schedule I controlled substance, the Act applies to it as a whole. As such, there are considerably severe penalties for its possession, distribution, etc.

Offenders who are suspected of possessing, selling, and/or using heroin could be subject to arrest and prosecution in a federal criminal court. Those who are convicted face strict penalties, including fines and prison sentencing. According to the federal system, the following penalties for the possession of heroin are most common:

  • For first time possession, a prison sentence of up to one year, or a minimum fine of $1,000, or both;
  • Second time possession requires 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 are punishable by no less than ninety days but no more than three years in prison, or a minimum fine of $5,000, or both.

Additionally, civil penalties may be levied up to $10,000 for possession of controlled substances such as heroin, whether or not criminal prosecution is pursued. Those who are convicted of possession could also be fined for reasonable costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of the offense. 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 drug possession. Drug trafficking refers to selling, transporting, and/or illegally importing illegal controlled substances such as heroin. The following are the most common federal penalties for drug trafficking, but 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 to someone else, 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 most 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 in the offense, the offender could be sentenced with prison time of no less than twenty years, but no more than one life sentence. They will most likely face fines up to but not to exceed $10 million. Again, penalties increase greatly for all subsequent convictions.

What Are The State Penalties For Crimes Associated With Heroin?

To reiterate, penalties for crimes associated with heroin are determined by several different factors. These factors include:

  • Whether the crime involved buying, selling, trafficking, and/or possessing heroin;
  • Whether this was a first, second, or subsequent charge;
  • The amount of the drug that was in the offender’s possession; and
  • What state the crime occurred in.

Nearly every state adheres to the Uniform Narcotics Act which 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 For Heroin Charges?

If you are being accused of a crime involving heroin, you should immediately consult with a skilled and knowledgeable drug lawyer.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options according to your state’s specific drug crime laws, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.