Possession of a controlled substance is a serious crime involving the possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. A controlled substance is defined by federal laws such as the Controlled Substances Act, as well as various state laws. 

Basically, possession of a controlled substance occurs if a person has the ability and intention to control it. Criminal possession of a controlled substance can be determined by the police in three different ways:

  • Actual Possession: This is where the person physically has control over the substance. In most cases, this means that they are carrying it on their person and have the ability to control it.
  • Constructive Possession: This may occur when the substance is not actually physically on the person, but is found on or around the person’s property. In order to prove constructive possession, the party must have knowledge of the substance’s presence, and must also have the ability to control it. Note that more than one person can be charged with constructive possession of the same substance.
  • Shared Possession: A defendant can be convicted of possessing a controlled substance or drug if the prosecution can establish that the accused had partial control of the substance, if the substance is being shared with another person.

Possession of a controlled substance can often be established during investigations for other crimes. For example, if you a suspect is subjected to a pat-down search for a violent crime and drugs are found in their pocket, they might be charged with possession of a controlled substance in addition to the violent crime.

Is Possession of a Controlled Substance a Misdemeanor or a Felony?

Possession of a controlled substance can either be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on three main factors:

  1. Type of Drug: Some drugs are punished more severely than others. For example, possession of marijuana is usually a misdemeanor charge, and sometimes only a traffic citation in some state. On the other hand, possession of methamphetamines or crack cocaine can often result in felony charges.
  2. Amount of Drug: Possessing a higher amount of a controlled substance makes it more likely that the defendant will be charged with a felony. For many state drug laws, possession of a substance over a certain amount will shift the charges from misdemeanor to a felony.
  3. Intent: Possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute it usually results in felony charges. In comparison, possession of a controlled substance for personal use is generally punished less severely than intent to distribute.

What Are the Penalties for Having Possession of a Controlled Substance?

Penalties for possession of a controlled substance usually depend on the way that the substance is classified, which can be found in the state “schedule.” The schedule is a listing of all the controlled substances. They are generally organized according to how dangerous the drug is, and how much potential it has for treatment vs. potential for harm. 

Drug possession charges also are subject to broad range of different penalties depending on which state in which the crime occurred. The severity of the penalty also depends on several factors such as amount of drugs possessed, whether there was an intent to sell, and the criminal history of the person possessing the drugs. Some common penalties include:

  • Fines that can range from $100 to $100,000 or more
  • Jail or prison time
  • Probation
  • Diversion Programs
  • Rehabilitation

What If I Didn’t Know I Had Drugs on Me?

Possession of controlled substance usually requires that the person had knowledge of the substance’s presence, and also had the ability to control it. Thus, if you are holding someone’s purse, which contains drugs, and you are subjected to a search by the police, they’d have to prove that you knew about the substances. 

This may be dependent on a variety of factors, which courts would have to analyze in order to determine the person’s guilt. In most cases, this can be a very complicated process requiring the assistance of a defense attorney.

Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer?

Possession of controlled substances is a very serious offense that can lead to strict legal penalties. If you need assistance with possession charges, you may wish to contact a criminal defense lawyer in your area. An experienced attorney can help answer questions like “What is possession of a controlled substance?” or, “What do I do if I’ve been charged with possession of drugs?” Your lawyer can represent you in court and provide a comprehensive defense for you.