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Drug crimes are some of the most common crimes in the United States, ranging from (unlawful) possession of a controlled substance to large-scale drug trafficking and racketeering. Drug crime typically involves the possession, distribution, manufacture, cultivation, or illicit sale of recreational drugs, from morphine to heroin to cannabis.
Nearly any drug offense could see you end up in the federal system because these substances are all banned under federal law. If federal officers, such as those with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), are conducting operations in your area, an arrest by one of those officers would likely lead to federal charges. Using illegal drugs on federal property, such as national parks, can also lead to drug charges. While federal officials often target distributors and traffickers more than people possessing a small amount of drugs, the potential does still exist.
Drug crimes involve any actions related to the use of local, state or federally banned narcotics like heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine. Some common drug crimes include selling, distributing, consuming or possessing these substances. The illegal use of prescription drugs like oxycodone and Vicodin also falls under this category. For example, if police find you with oxycodone, but you do not have a prescription for it, you are likely to be arrested.
The most common drug crime in the U.S. is drug possession. Having one or more illegal drugs on one’s person constitutes the crime, whether an offender is under the influence of said drugs. Some states consider possession of small amounts of marijuana to be a petty offense or infraction if they prosecute it at all. This leniency in the face of increasingly common relaxation of laws regarding cannabis consumption does not apply to most other drugs scheduled by the federal government.
Drug possession with intent to distribute (or simply possession with intent to distribute) is a charge which straddles the gap between simple possession (of small amounts, personal amounts of a controlled substance) and drug trafficking (which involves the large-scale movement/dealing of illicit drugs). A “street dealer” moving moderate quantities of cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, etc. may be charged with drug possession with intent to distribute if a case can be made based on the evidence provided by law enforcement.
Drug trafficking is the highest order of drug offenses, at both the state and federal levels. Almost always classified as a felony, drug trafficking refers to conducting unlawful trade in controlled substances, generally involving great quantities of the drug(s) in question.
While simple possession of most scheduled drugs (particularly cannabis) results in, at most, misdemeanor charges — and typically, a drug diversion program or rehabilitation — possession with intent to distribute and drug trafficking are prosecuted more aggressively.
Those convicted of large-scale drug trafficking could see between 10 years to a life sentence if convicted. At the state level, drug trafficking charges typically range from three years to a life sentence, depending on the drug being moved and the quantity being transported. If death or serious injury results from the trafficking of these drugs or the demonstrable use of the drugs, penalties are almost always enhanced to 20 years to life.
Possession with intent to distribute is generally charged at the state level, and penalties vary based on the context of the crime as well as the jurisdiction laws of each state. In some states, possession of cannabis with intent to sell is classified as a third degree felony. If found guilty of these charges, offenders could face up to five years behind bars. If the substance in question is instead cocaine, the maximum sentence is increased to 15 years incarceration. A range of between one to five years is common for first-time offenders, with penalties increasing for repeat offenders or for more harshly scrutinized drugs.
You can be handed a probation requirement in response to a conviction for a drug-related crime or even as part of a potential plea deal. The likelihood that you receive probation as part of your sentence depends on the severity of the alleged offense and a variety of other factors, so it is vital to speak with an attorney to determine if you can reasonably expect to get probation. Regularly meeting with your probation officer, abstaining from drugs or with those who use drugs, and other conditions may be part of your probation.
If you are facing charges related to drugs or drug-related crime, you should seek the services of a skilled criminal defense attorney at your earliest opportunity. A conviction in response to a drug crime, even simple possession, can create a lifelong disadvantage in the form of a permanent criminal record.
Retaining proper legal counsel not only increases your chance of avoiding conviction, but in situations where the prosecution has a viable case, your attorney may be able to negotiate a lesser sentence in exchange for your cooperation. Together, you and your lawyer can craft the best defense possible in the event that you decide to proceed to trial, and if not, your lawyer can help to guide you through every option available to you.
An attorney can often resolve your particular legal issue faster and better than trying to do it alone. A lawyer can help you navigate the legal system, while avoiding costly mistakes or procedural errors. You should seek out an attorney whose practice focuses on the area of law most relevant to your issue.
The goal of an initial consultation is to find an attorney you are comfortable working with and someone who can help you understand your options under the law. Seek to understand the relevant legal experience the attorney brings to your case. While it is not realistic to expect an attorney to resolve your legal issue during an initial consultation, you should gain a level of comfort with his/her ability to do so. A good consultation can clarify issues, raise pertinent questions and considerations for your case, and help you make an informed decision towards resolving your legal issue.
For most consumer legal issues, the size of the practice is much less important than the experience, competence, and reputation of the attorney(s) handling your case. Among the most important factors when choosing an attorney are your comfort level with the attorney or practice and the attorney’s track record in bringing about quick, successful resolutions to cases similar to yours.
Pro se – This Latin term refers to representing yourself in court instead of hiring professional legal counsel. Pro se representation can occur in either criminal or civil cases.
Statute – Refers to a law created by a legislative body. For example, the laws enacted by Congress are statutes.
Subject matter jurisdiction – Requirement that a particular court have authority to hear the claim based on the specific type of issue brought to the court. For example, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court only has subject matter jurisdiction over bankruptcy filings, therefore it does not have the authority to render binding judgment over other types of cases, such as divorce.