While marijuana use is being legalized in some states, it’s still illegal in many jurisdictions — as are a number of other drugs. Still, some individuals feel the risk of getting arrested on drug charges is lower than the reward of selling illegal narcotics.
They never consider what will happen when their luck runs out…
What Led to the Arrest?
The moments and scenarios leading up to the arrest is a primary concern for the lawyers of defendants accused of committing drug crimes. The lawyer’s job is to determine whether the police officers had probable cause to search for drugs in the first place. If not, the defense may be able to use that to either get the defendant’s charges dismissed or obtain a plea bargain with a reduced sentence.
In one recent Houston, Texas case, police officers pulled a vehicle over for speeding after using a speed gun to determine that the driver was traveling 20 miles over the posted speed limit. As the officer approached the driver’s side door, he could smell the odor of marijuana. The officer called for additional support and the ensuing search resulted in the confiscation of a kilogram of methamphetamine and a pound of marijuana.
In this instance, the search was legal. The officer had just cause to pull the vehicle over for speeding, while the odor of marijuana gave him probable cause to search the vehicle.
In many other cases, however, probable cause is much more difficult to justify — especially where searching an individual is concerned. For that reason, challenging the probable cause of a search is one of the most common and most successful defenses against accusations of drug crimes.
How Does a Drug Investigation Proceed?
Whether initiated by a traffic stop or a citizen complaint, a drug arrest is just the beginning. The police must still investigate the crime to gather evidence and identify witnesses. In a traffic stop, the sole witnesses may be the police officers on the scene and their search may find drug paraphernalia, as well as the drugs themselves.
A larger investigation, prompted by citizen complaints or an undercover operation, may also involve collecting surveillance recordings, as well as involve searches of residential properties and vehicles. It’s not enough to collect the drugs to be used as evidence in a trial.
Forensic analysts are tasked with examining the drugs to verify that they are the substances police officers assume them to be. For instance, chemical testing may be done to determine whether a white powder is cocaine, anthrax, or common baking powder.
What are the Penalties for a Drug Conviction?
There’s no easy answer.
Drug offense penalties vary from state to state, and even between the government levels. For instance, federal drug trafficking sentences are far more severe than convictions for felony possession and sale of narcotics at the state or local level. Even within the same jurisdiction, sentencing for the same drug offense can vary based upon degrees.
While a third-degree conviction may only carry a fine of up to $100 and under 30 days of jail time, a first-degree conviction of the same crime may carry a fine of several thousands of dollars and a long prison term.
Since 1986, when the federal government instituted mandatory sentencing to drug-related crimes, punishments have become more uniform. Each offense carries a predetermined sentence, which is based upon the type and quantity of the drug(s) in the case and the offender’s prior convictions.
But not all states prosecute drug crimes equally.
Kentucky, for instance, carries some of the strictest laws against drug offenders. A first-time offender charged with possession of an illegal substance can expect to serve between two to 10 years in a state prison, as well as be fined up to $20,000.
California, on the other hand, is far more lenient. In this state, first-time offenders only serve 15 to 180 days in jail and may be subjected to fines between $30 and $500.
If you’re facing charges, it’s in your best interests to contact an attorney who specializes in defending against drug-related crimes. An experienced attorney may be able to invalidate the arrest or offer mitigating circumstances that could weigh in your favor at the trial.
Sometimes, an experienced attorney can even obtain a favorable plea bargain that will limit your period of incarceration. This is not something anyone can handle alone, so consulting a legal advocate should be done as soon as possible.