Drug charges are easily the most frequent cases in the criminal justice system. Although the judicial approach to drug crimes may seem straightforward, there are actually quite a number of ways to get caught up with illegal substances and the punishable crimes to go along with them. To get a better understanding of the possible crimes, we have compiled the possible charges you may face under federal and state law.
Types of Drug Crimes Include:
- Possession With Intent To Distribute
- Trafficking and Drug Mail
Drug Possession in Virginia
Drug possession is the most common crime we encounter in our offices. The possession of controlled substances like marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD, and others is punishable by federal and state laws. The severity of the crime is affected by the type of controlled substance.
There are two types of possession: actual and constructive possession. Actual possession exists when a person is physically carrying drugs. Constructive possession exists when the drugs are not on the person of the accused but circumstances exist to demonstrate his possession of the substance. Before convicting a person of drug possession, the government must prove that the police legally seized the drugs, the defendant knows that the substance they are carrying is illegal and that the defendant had “dominion and control” over those drugs.
Possession With Intent To Distribute
Drug distribution is different from simple possession and it is also punished more heavily under the law. Distribution cases usually come in two forms:
INFORMANTS AND CONTROLLED BUYS: Law enforcement agencies often use undercover agents or confidential informants (“snitches”) to investigate and prosecute drug distribution. In these cases, police give buyer money then use recorded surveillance to record transactions with the target. Modern technology has provided police with sophisticated means (Drone technology, hidden cameras, microphones) of observing these interactions. Larger conspiracies may involve historical drug weight and complex distribution networks.
DRUG WEIGHT: The second way police prove possession with intent to distribute case is when a person possesses a number of drugs so large that a court determines that the person intended to sell the drug rather than have that quantity for personal use. The investigating parties will find potential links and evidence that point to the defendant having the intent to sell illegal substances. Relevant evidence in these cases includes paraphernalia such as containers, scales, baggies, and even the money that was used in the transaction.
Trafficking and Drug Mail
Drug transportation across state lines is one of the most severely punished drug offenses. The most common form of drug transportation in trafficking cases involves the use of the U.S. postal service, FedEx or UPS to deliver drugs. The sheer volume of the mail provides some cover for this offense. However, DEA agents, local police and postal inspectors work together using old school methods (like drug-sniffing dogs) and cutting edge surveillance technology to combat illegal drug shipment.
Every year Postal Service inspectors seize mail containing more than 37,000 pounds of illegal drugs and $23.5 million in suspected drug-trafficking proceeds nationwide. Although marijuana is overwhelmingly the most frequently seized illegal drug, recent investigative efforts focus on foreign importation of drugs like opioids and fentanyl. Virginia Code § 18.2-248.01 specifically prohibits the crime of transporting controlled substances into the Commonwealth and is one of the few state drug laws that carry a mandatory minimum sentence for first-time offenders.
Paraphernalia is a term that is used to describe any form of equipment or item that can be used to inject, prepare, inhale or even conceal illegal drugs. It is a crime to sell, import, export and possess any form of paraphernalia. As such, it is advisable to avoid traveling while having items that could be considered as drug paraphernalia. Some of the items under the general description include:
● Rolling papers for marijuana
● Makeshift containers
● Certain chemicals
There are various forms of paraphernalia for each type of controlled substance. For instance, bongs and rolling papers are attributed directly to marijuana. On the other hand, syringes are attributed to heroin.
If the police spot a questionable item, they can to inspect the other belongings of the suspect to see whether or not he could be carrying paraphernalia. The possession of paraphernalia is one of the lightest drug crimes a person can commit. It is important however to know that law-enforcement agents can submit suspected drug paraphernalia to the state division of forensic science. If the state laboratory finds even a microscopic amount of a controlled substance the commonwealth can pursue a possession.
State Charges vs. Federal Charges
Every drug distribution crime has concurrent jurisdiction in state and federal court. This means that federal prosecutors could elect to pursue any drug case within their jurisdiction. Federal drug penalties are often more severe. State and federal prosecutors make private decisions to determine which cases are tried in federal court. In federal court, defendants that plead guilty have lower sentencing guidelines then defendants that are found guilty at trial. Accordingly, federal court conviction and plea rates are usually above 95%.
Penalties: State and Federal
Possession with intent and distribution charges are punished far more severely than simple possession. Virginia possession felonies are punishable with 1 to 10 years in prison. Distribution is punishable with 5 to 40 years. A second offense for distribution carries 5 to life and a 3-year mandatory minimum. A third offense carries a 10-year minimum sentence. Transportation into the state is punishable with 5 to 40 years in prison and a 3-year mandatory sentence. § 18.2-248.01. Federal drug charges are punished more harshly and sentenced based on complicated drug quantity calculations. 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(A)(ii)
Defenses for Drug Crimes in VA
Advanced criminal defense of distribution cases requires knowledge of wiretap laws, the impeachment of informant testimony, and constitutional challenges to surveillance actions. Even in cases with insurmountable evidence, a savvy and experienced defense lawyer can negotiate lesser charges. Often times good defense work can avoid the severity of mandatory incarceration.
Is It Time To Call A Lawyer?
These crimes may come with heavy punishment that can include years in prison and large fees. If you have been accused of a drug-related crime, our Richmond criminal defense attorneys can help. We work around the clock to give our clients the best possible outcome.
Call today (804) 207-5735 to discuss your rights.