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What Are Drug Crimes?

Federal and state drug laws address the sale, manufacturing, use, and possession of a controlled substance:

  • Drug possession charges involve having an illegal drug, or in some cases, possession of drug paraphernalia, whether it’s for personal use or to sell.
  • Drug dealing or selling charges apply for selling or attempting to sell drugs illegally.
  • Drug manufacturing or cultivating charges apply for making, processing, or growing illegal drugs. Possessing certain chemicals that are commonly used to produce drugs and have limited other practical purposes may lead to manufacturing charges, even if the actual drug isn’t present. Playing any part in a drug-making process can qualify.
  • Drug distribution or drug trafficking charges apply for delivering, transporting, importing, or selling illegal drugs. Crossing state lines to unlawfully sell controlled substances is more likely to lead to trafficking charges than dealing charges.

What Are the Penalties for Drug Crimes?

The penalties for drug crimes can depend on several different factors. Penalties can range from infractions for simple possession cases in some cities, to misdemeanor or felony charges. Factors that determine the criminal charges and penalties include:

  • Type of controlled substance
  • Amount of drugs involved
  • Involvement with other criminal activity
  • Age of people involved
  • Prior criminal history

The federal Controlled Substances Act classifies drugs under different “schedules” that correspond to their perceived potential for harm, abuse, or medicinal use:

  • Schedule I drugs include those considered to have no valid medical purpose and a high risk for abuse. Ecstasy, LSD, and cannabis are Schedule I drugs on the federal level.
  • Schedule II drugs include those considered to have a high potential for abuse, high risk of harm, and high risk of addiction. Methamphetamine, cocaine, and many types of pain management opioids like oxycodone and fentanyl, are Schedule II drugs.
  • Schedule III drugs include those considered to have moderate to low risks for addiction and moderate risk for abuse. Anabolic steroids and ketamine are Schedule III drugs.
  • Schedule IV drugs include those considered to have a low potential for abuse and addiction. Prescription benzodiazepines and sedatives like Xanax, Valium, and Ambien are Schedule IV drugs.
  • Schedule V drugs include those considered to have a low risk for abuse. Over-the-counter pain medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and certain cough medicines are Schedule V drugs.

Under federal charges, first-time offenders trafficking any amount of a schedule V substance face prison sentences of up to one year and fines of up to $100,000. However, first-time offenders who traffic certain quantities of schedule I and II drugs, face a minimum jail time of 20 years up to life imprisonment and fines of up to $20 million.

A drug offense criminal record could negatively impact employment, housing options, participation in student financial aid programs, child custody and visitation rights, and professional opportunities.

What Are Defense Strategies for Drug Charges?

Prosecutors have to prove every element of the offense. If your drug possession lawyer can show doubt about any element of the offense, you should not be found guilty. Many drug cases center on evidence of intentional wrongdoing, with defense strategies challenging:

  • Whether police searches and seizures were legal
  • The reliability of witness testimony
  • What type of drugs were involved and the amount
  • The strength of circumstantial evidence
  • Whether law enforcement can prove that the alleged violations were committed knowingly

Do I Need a Drug Defense Lawyer for Drug Crimes?

An experienced criminal defense attorney who understands drug crimes and related charges can challenge the unlawful searches to get evidence thrown out of court, leaving the prosecutor with a very weak case. An attorney could also negotiate to reduce the potential penalties by arguing their client suffers from addiction and would be better served by drug treatment or diversion programs instead of incarceration.

Many drug crime lawyers offer free consultations that allow defendants to understand their options and get specific legal advice before committing to legal representation.

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