The reality is that drugs exist almost anywhere in the United States, even in safe suburbs like Mooresville and nice neighborhoods like Bells Crossing, Bridgeport or The Farm. Rich or poor, professional or blue collar, anyone can get mixed up in drugs and wind up facing legal trouble. When drug-related criminal charges occur, it can come as a shock to family members who may not have known and it can be difficult to know where to turn for help. A quick search online can lead to even further confusion, with North Carolina's dizzying criminal code likely raising more questions than answers.
First, let's discuss the ways that drugs are categorized in North Carolina, it will help as we move forward with discussing potential penalties for various crimes. In North Carolina, drugs are broken down into one of six categories. Each category includes different kinds of controlled dangerous substances (more commonly referred to simply as drugs). What crime you are ultimately charged with and what penalties you face will largely depending on what category of drug is involved and how much of that drug you have in your possession at the time of arrest.
Schedule I drugs include those that are seen as the most dangerous or addictive. These include things like opiates and heroin. These most serious controlled substances are likely to result in the most severe criminal penalties. Schedule II drugs include those that are viewed as slightly less addictive and/or have some accepted medical uses (as opposed to Schedule I drugs, which have no legitimate medical use). These include things like opium and methamphetamine. Schedule III drugs are, again, slightly less dangerous and include things like ketamine and some barbiturates. Schedule IV drugs include things like Xanax or Valium. Schedule V drugs include some over the counter medicines, like cough syrup with codeine. Finally, Schedule VI drugs are best exemplified by marijuana.
Now that we understand the various schedules for drugs in North Carolina, it is helpful to understand the criminal penalties that might result from being found with such controlled substances. At the lowest level on the criminal totem pole are misdemeanor drug crimes. Misdemeanor drug crimes are usually charged when a defendant is found with small amounts of less dangerous/addictive controlled substances. An example would be if you were found with a very small amount of marijuana. This would typically lead prosecutors to consider misdemeanor charges. Though a small amount of drugs usually means reduced charges, that isn't always true if Schedule I or II drugs are involved. Even if the amount is small, more serious criminal charges may result.
This brings us to the next step up in terms of severity: felony drug possession. Who gets charged with felony drug possession? Typically these charges are reserved for those who either have small amounts of Schedule I or II drugs or more sizable amounts of other drugs. If you are caught with a large amount of any drug, regardless of its Schedule, you can and likely will be charged with a felony drug possession crime. The reason that volume is important is because it is often seen by prosecutors as a sign that the defendant may be making or selling the drugs. If that is suspected, then the prosecutor may choose to bring drug manufacturing or distribution charges, which are also felony crimes.
So far we have been discussing state crimes, but what about federal drug charges? A good example of a time when federal law enforcement might become involved in a case is when drug trafficking is suspected. If a person is found with a large volume of a controlled substance, federal investigators may take over the case and weigh bringing federal drug manufacturing, distribution or trafficking charges. These charges are especially likely if the drugs at issue were found to have crossed state or national borders. Had the drugs stayed entirely within one state's boundaries it might have remained a state felony trafficking charge, but once multiple jurisdictions become involved the crime almost always becomes federal charges.
It can be frustrating for defendants in drug cases because drug crimes are typically seen as victimless. No one was assaulted or injured. No money was stolen. No property was trespassed. Regardless, prosecutors in Iredell County are likely to pursue these drug cases very aggressively, eager to show that they are tough on crime. In such cases, it can be easy to feel like no one is on your side. If you live in the Lake Norman area and are facing drug charges, consider reaching out to the experienced criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC, who have spent years handling cases just like yours. Our attorneys know the ins and outs of the criminal justice system and will fight tirelessly on your behalf. Contact us here, or give us a call at 704-370-2828 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.