Arrested on Drug Charges? Talk to A Defense Attorney Today
If you’ve been charged with drug trafficking, distribution or drug possession with intent to distribute, you undoubtedly already know that you’re facing serious penalties.
You may be aware that in many states, “intent to distribute” is presumed if you’re in possession of a certain quantity of drugs, and that the prosecutor does not have to prove actual intent to distribute in order to convict you of this crime.
Talk to a defense attorney today to learn how you may be able to fight your drug charges in court. For example, an attorney can ask if you were read your Miranda rights, and learn other important aspects that may affect your case.
What Happens if You’re Convicted on Drug Charges?
What you may not know is that even drug possession in relatively small quantities can carry harsh consequences. In the federal criminal system, many drug crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences, even for first offenses or repeated offenses involving relatively small quantities of drugs.
In addition to jail or prison time, drug offenses carry a variety of other penalties affecting property rights, driver’s license privileges, fines, costs, mandatory drug treatment or education programs, probation, and indirect penalties like reduced employment options.
In addition, many states “tax” possession of illicit drugs under various circumstances.
One state taxes marijuana at a rate of $100/gram, and others tax cultivators on a per-plant basis that runs as high as $1000/plant. In several states, non-payment of these taxes is itself a criminal offense carrying substantial jail time.
The tax is in addition to already stiff financial penalties, including fines, court costs, payment for court ordered drug and alcohol treatment or education, and in some states mandatory contributions to drug education funds or related programs.
Driver’s License Suspension
Some states also impose a driver’s license suspension for any drug-related conviction.
The duration of the suspension varies, and it is discretionary in some states, but several states have a mandatory six-month driver’s license suspension even for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Unlike many drivers convicted of DUI, those whose licenses are suspended for drug possession are often not eligible for work or hardship licenses, and so are prohibited from driving even to work or court ordered drug treatment programs during the suspension period.
Forfeiture of Property
And, of course, drug-related crimes subject property-be it automobiles, boats, airplanes, or your personal residence-to civil forfeiture proceedings.
Since forfeiture proceedings are civil, the state or federal government doesn’t have to prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt”. In fact, in many cases the government doesn’t have to prove its case at all, and the burden is on the property owner to prove that the property wasn’t involved in the crime.
Civil forfeiture proceedings don’t require a criminal conviction-or even criminal charges. Property can be seized even in cases where no criminal charges are ever filed.
In fact, innocence of the property owner is generally not a defense in civil forfeiture proceedings.
Make Sure You Know What’s At Stake
If you’ve been charged with a drug-related crime, whether it’s drug trafficking, drug manufacturing, possession with intent to distribute, prescription drug fraud, or even simple possession, speak with a criminal defense attorney in your area before you appear in court.
It’s important that you understand all of the risks associated with your charges before you make any decisions, and there are strict deadlines in the criminal justice system regarding filing notice of certain defenses or requests for evidence.
There may even be more at stake if you’ve been charged with more than three cases, thanks to the three-strike laws.
Since 1995, more than 8 million people have been arrested in the United States for marijuana-related crimes. Of those, more than 6 million were charged with possession of marijuana.
Millions of others have been charged with possession of “harder” drugs, and some of those drug possession charges carry mandatory minimum prison sentences in the federal system and some states.
Although many people view simple possession as a relatively minor crime, law enforcement agencies and state and federal statutes don’t agree. In addition to jail (or even prison) time, someone convicted of drug possession risks substantial fines, mandatory drug and alcohol treatment/education and associated costs, a driver’s license suspension, and disqualification from certain types of employment.
Virtually all drug offenses are subject to federal prosecution, so even where state laws are more liberal, the risk remains high. For instance, the state of California permits limited medical use of marijuana, but those procuring, providing or using marijuana in accordance with the California statute have been prosecuted successfully in federal court.
Drug Distribution and Drug Trafficking
Drug trafficking, distribution or possession with intent to distribute, naturally carries more severe penalties than simple possession.
These penalties are enhanced if the crime takes place within a certain distance-usually 1000 feet-of a school. Since that’s about a fifth of a mile or a block and a half, it’s easy to incur that enhancement without approaching a school, or even being aware of the proximity.
In some systems, the proximity to a school, even if that school is a University, triggers mandatory minimum sentencing.
Mandatory minimums can also be triggered by sheer quantity, and the quantity varies depending upon the drug in question.
In many jurisdictions, intent to distribute is presumed if a certain quantity of drugs is possessed, without regard to any actual proof of distribution (or even intent to distribute).
Furthermore, multiple offenses, even if involving relatively small quantities of drugs, may trigger extremely harsh minimum sentences. Recently, a Utah man with no prior criminal history was sentences to 55 years in prison after being convicted of selling marijuana on three occasions, twice while carrying a handgun which was not used or discharged during the commission of the crimes. The trial judge himself stated that the sentence was excessive, but federal law allowed him no discretion to reduce the sentence, which was later upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mandatory minimum sentencing provisions are even harsher for other classes of drug, particularly those like crack cocaine and methamphetamines that are considered to be highly addictive and are rampant in poor communities.
If you’ve been charged with drug trafficking or possession with intent to distribute, it’s important that you find out about the potential penalties and other risks now. Criminal cases move quickly through the system, and important rights may be lost or compromised if not exercised right away.
Drug Cultivation & Drug Manufacturing
Drug cultivation or manufacturing charges can be very serious, even if only small amounts of a drug are cultivated or manufactured for personal use. For instance, cultivation of a single marijuana plant is a federal felony.
Like trafficking and distribution charges, cultivation charges trigger mandatory minimums or harsher sentences in many jurisdictions if the cultivation takes place within a certain distance from a school. That means that a defendant charged in federal court with growing a single marijuana plant in his kitchen a block from a school building will be subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that approximately 20 percent of Americans have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes at some point in their lives. But with the increased trafficking of prescription drugs over the internet, the surprising increase in senior citizen trafficking of prescription drugs, and the high incidence of overdoses by users of illegally obtained prescription drugs, prosecution is increasing and sentences are often just as harsh as those imposed for the distribution of illegal drugs.
Fraud statutes don’t discriminate: doctors and pharmacists are charged with illegal trafficking in prescription drugs, and so are the social-security-dependent elderly who trade painkillers for cash to pay for other medications not supplied by Medicare or to pay the electric bill.
The Bottom Line
Possession or distribution, prescription or “street” drugs, drug-related criminal charges are serious business. The potential for mandatory minimum prison sentences-sometimes a decade or more for relatively minor offenses-along with license suspensions, lengthy and restrictive terms of probation, mandatory drug treatment, hefty fines, taxes, forfeiture of property, and limitations on future employment prospects, means that you need to fully understand your rights and options before you take any action at all.
The clock is ticking on the limitations period for filing certain defenses and requests for information.
Take control of your case now. Talk to a criminal defense attorney in your area. A local criminal defense attorney will be able to explain exactly what kind of penalties you may be facing, and analyze your case for possible defenses. Fill out a free evaluation by a defense attorney near you and arrange a free, no obligation consultation with a criminal lawyer in your area.