Federal Drug Possession

The common misconception regarding drugs is that federal law enforcement officials are only interested in suspected drug traffickers. While this perception is generally true regarding federal drug-enforcement activities, the mere possession of illicit drugs is a crime, and depending on the circumstances a federal one, to boot. The Controlled Substances Act prohibits any person from knowingly or intentionally possessing a controlled substance unless the controlled substance was obtained through a valid prescription from a licensed physician. If you or someone you know has been charged with possession of drugs in Waxhaw, you should immediately contact an experienced North Carolina criminal defense attorney.

Federal Drug Possession Penalties

Under federal law, The Controlled Substances Act (the “Act”), individuals who are facing first-time drug offenses may face prison time of up to one year and a monetary fine of $1,000 for simple possession of a controlled substance. Individuals with a prior conviction for any drug, narcotic, or chemical criminal offense who are again charged with possession of a controlled substance face a mandatory sentence of at least 15 days of prison time. That being said, a federal judge has the discretion to order a term of imprisonment of up to two years and mandate an offender with a prior drug conviction with a monetary fine of $2,500.

Not surprisingly, if a drug offender is found guilty of possession of a controlled substance and he or she has two prior drug convictions, the penalties are even harsher. Indeed, the mandatory minimum sentence regarding drug possession charged against an offender who has two prior drug convictions is 90 days of prison time. Again, a federal judge has the discretion to sentence the offender with two prior convictions to a prison sentence of up to three years. Beyond this, the federal judge must impose a monetary fine against the offender of a minimum of $5,000.00. The federal judge, however, has the authority to impose a larger fine should the circumstances warrant it. Notably, while judges have some discretion, they do not have the authority to waive or deviate below the mandatory minimum sentences for offenses having to do with drug possession. In addition to monetary fines and prison time, someone who is charged and convicted of drug possession must also pay the costs associated with investigating and prosecuting the case against them. Federal judges do have the authority, however, to waive these costs if they believe the accused is unable to pay.

Defenses to Drug Possession Charges

An individual accused of a simple drug possession crime in Waxhaw, North Carolina may be able to put forth a defense against these charges. One of the most common drug possession charge defenses is providing evidence that the accused did not knowingly possess the controlled substance in question. This is because the government prosecuting the case bears the burden of establishing beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance found was a controlled substance and that the accused knowingly possessed the illicit drug. While these elements seem simple, the specific facts of your case may provide opportunities where an accused can dispute the government’s case in an effort to prove innocence.

One legal strategy that may be used by a skilled criminal defense attorney is the demand that the government offer proof that the substance seized by law enforcement officers was actually a controlled substance. Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has ruled that individuals accused of drug crimes have the right to confront, or cross examine, the chemist or laboratory official who tested the alleged drug under the Sixth Amendment to U.S. Constitution. This right to cross examine can be a critical issue in a drug possession case. In short, if the government did not follow proper protocols when testing the substance or if they did not properly safeguard the evidence and broke the chain-of-custody of the alleged illicit drug, the matter may be dismissed altogether.

Another legal strategy that may be used by a skilled criminal defense attorney - depending on the actual drug - is to challenge the reasonableness of the presumption that the accused knew, or should have reasonably known, that the drug was a controlled substance. Again, the government bears the burden of proof to establish that the accused knowingly possessed a controlled substance. If the accused did not, or could not know that the drug was a controlled substance, even if it was, then the person cannot be find guilty of the charges.

A third legal strategy that may be used by a skilled criminal defense attorney is disputing the possession element of the charges. Sometimes possession is simple in drug cases, such as when contraband is found in the accused’s hands or in his or her pocket. Proving possession may not be not so simple, however, when the contraband is found somewhere else such as the trunk of a person’s vehicle, under the passenger seat of a person’s vehicle where someone else had been sitting the earlier, or in a person’s trash can at the foot of his or her property. These are just some of countless scenarios that may be used by an accused to prove his or her innocence.

Criminal Defense Help in Waxhaw

Perhaps the most critical step for someone who is accused of drug possession in North Carolina is to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney. The skilled lawyers at Arnold & Smith, PLLC will explore the specific circumstances of your case, flesh out the best available defenses, and put forth a case to convince the court that the government has not met its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The federal government takes drug possession cases seriously, and so should you, as it can mean the difference between keeping or losing your freedom.