Drug-related crimes are some of the severest crimes under the law. They are highly punishable offenses that could result in prison time, a hefty court fine, and other life-changing consequences. Prosecutors charge drug crimes as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the details of the case and the defendant's criminal history. Felony drug charges are more severe, with heftier penalties upon conviction. Under state and federal laws, felony drug charges result in a prison sentence and severe criminal fines.
You need legal help to navigate the complex legal process and put up a solid fight against your charges if you face felony drug charges. A skilled criminal attorney will consider the facts of your case, explain your options, and develop a fighting strategy. They will also protect your rights and ensure you receive the best possible outcome for your case.
What Results in Felony Drug Charges?
When the police arrest you for a drug crime, the prosecutor chooses how to charge you depending on the details of your case and your criminal history. They could file misdemeanor or felony charges against you, depending on the following:
- The nature of drugs.
- The amount of drugs.
- Your involvement with the drugs, whether possession, sale, or trafficking.
The simple possession of some controlled substances is mainly a misdemeanor. Simple living, in this case, means that you only had small quantities of the drugs for personal use. Possessing large amounts of a controlled substance will result in felony charges.
State laws make it a felony to sell, traffic, or give away some controlled substances. It is because those actions result in more people being harmed or affected by your actions. Having more drugs than you need for personal use could cause the prosecutor or judge to conclude that you intend to sell or distribute the drugs to other people. In that case, you will face felony charges.
In most cases, the prosecutor chooses how to file your charges, depending on the details they have about your case. They could also consider your criminal history and other elements to determine your costs. It helps to work alongside a skilled criminal attorney to understand the legal implications of your charges, how you can fight them, and the best way to obtain a fair outcome for your case.
Here are some of the factors that could make your drug charge a felony:
Possession of a Regulated Substance
Possession of a regulated drug is the most frequently charged drug offense under the law. While some simple possession charges are misdemeanors (like the simple possession of marijuana), you will face felony charges for having a controlled drug. When it pertains to the most dangerous substances, like heroin and cocaine, the prosecutor will file felony charges against you for possessing even the most minor amounts of substances. A conviction for the same will result in grave consequences, for example, a lengthy prison term and a hefty court fine.
But the prosecutor must demonstrate the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt for the judge to find you guilty of a felony:
- You were in unlawful possession of a regulated substance.
- You were aware or should have reasonably known about the drug's presence.
- You were aware or should have reasonably known about the character or nature of the drug as a controlled substance.
- The substance was in usable amounts.
Having a usable amount of a drug means that you have enough of the substance to use it as a controlled drug. Debris or traces of the drugs do not count as usable amounts. But the drug must not be adequate to affect you.
Here are examples of substances whose simple possession can result in felony charges:
- Prescription painkillers.
- Most hallucinogens.
You would face felony charges for possession of a regulated substance if you were in actual or constructive possession of the drugs. Actual possession means that you were directly in control of the drugs. For example, if the drugs are in your pockets, hands, or backpack, you carry them. Constructive possession means you are indirectly in control of the substances. For example, if they are in a safe in your house or a locker belonging to you.
A conviction for possessing a controlled substance is punishable by a maximum of three years in prison. You could be eligible for drug diversion under Prop 36, which could result in a case dismissal if you complete a court-ordered drug diversion program.
The Sale of a Controlled Substance
Selling controlled substances puts more people at risk of the severe effects of drug abuse and addiction. That is why the law has severe consequences for anyone found guilty of selling controlled substances. The police use significant resources to investigate cases involving the sale of narcotics. Those guilty of these crimes face lengthy prison sentences and other life-changing consequences, including a damaging criminal record. It is advisable to speak to a competent criminal attorney if you face charges for selling a controlled substance. With the proper defense, the judge can reduce your costs or throw your case out of court.
But for the judge to make the final decision on your case, the prosecutor must prove all elements of your case beyond a reasonable doubt. These elements include the following:
- That you had controlled substances.
- You sold or intended to sell the senses in your possession.
- You knew or should have reasonably known the presence of the drugs in your person or property.
- You were aware or should have reasonably known the nature of the drugs as controlled substances.
It could be surprising that the prosecutor can file charges under this statute even when you only have small amounts of the substances in your possession. What matters is that you sold or gave the drugs to another person.
The statute also applies to controlled substances like cocaine, heroin, LSD, Peyote, and some prescription drugs. You are guilty if the police discover usable amounts of the drug in your possession and have evidence that you were selling the drugs.
The sale of a controlled drug is a much more serious offense than simple possession. If the court finds you guilty, the judge can sentence you up to five years in prison. Additionally, they will require you to pay a court fine of up to $20,000. You will likely face a longer prison sentence due to aggravating factors. For example, if you were selling the drugs to a minor or had excess quantities of the substance.
Trafficking a Controlled Substance
Drug trafficking is a different crime than selling a controlled substance. It involves transporting illegal drugs from one location to another. You can traffic drugs without necessarily intending to sell them. Even so, trafficking is a severe felony that could result in lengthy prison time and a hefty court fine. The prosecutor's charges and the judge's decision are based on the amount and nature of the drugs involved. Your penalties could increase if you traffic controlled substances across state lines.
But before you are convicted, the prosecutor must demonstrate all the offense elements. For example, they must show that you illegally transported or imported controlled substances. Under HS 11352, the law makes it a felony offense to move drugs by any means, whether by foot, bicycle, vehicle, sea, or air. Transporting even the smallest amount of controlled drugs could result in charges under this statute.
Drug trafficking is prohibited under federal and state laws. Whether you will face state and federal charges or state charges alone for drug trafficking will depend on your case's circumstances. For example, if you transport a controlled substance within California and do not cross any state lines, state laws will apply in your situation. But if you move the drugs from one state to another or across a national border, federal laws will apply. Note that federal charges will result in heftier penalties if a judge finds you guilty of drug trafficking.
A conviction for drug trafficking can result in a prison sentence of three to nine years. The judge could also impose a fine of up to $20,000. The judge can heighten your sentence in the presence of aggravating factors, including the following:
- If you are guilty of moving a large amount of controlled substances.
- If a minor is involved in a crime.
- If you committed the crime near a drug treatment facility.
- If you moved the drugs near or for the benefit of felons, pregnant persons, or people with a mental disorder.
An aggravating factor can result in an additional prison sentence of three to five years.
Suppose you face federal charges for drug trafficking. In that case, your sentence will mainly depend on the quantity of the substance involved, if your involvement caused the death or injury of another person, and similar circumstances. A conviction for drug trafficking under federal law could result in a five-year prison sentence and a fine of up to $20 million.
The Type and Amount of the Substance Matters
The Controlled Substances Act categorizes controlled drugs into various schedules according to the drug's potential for abuse and addiction.
Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous controlled substances because of their high potential for addiction and abuse. Most drugs under this schedule have severe physical and psychological consequences for those who abuse or are addicted to them. Examples of drugs under this schedule include heroin, LSD, peyote, and ecstasy.
Schedule II drugs also have a high potential for addiction and abuse. They are also dangerous drugs and include cocaine, methamphetamine, oxycodone, methadone, and fentanyl. Schedule III drugs have a moderate-to-low potential for abuse and addiction. Examples include ketamine, codeine, testosterone, and anabolic steroids. Schedule IV drugs have a low potential for addiction and abuse. They include medications like Soma, Xanax, Valium, Ambien, and Tramadol.
Schedule V drugs are chemicals and drugs with the lowest potential for addiction and abuse. They generally include antitussive, antidiarrheal, and analgesic drugs. Examples include Motofen, Parepectolin, and Lomotil.
The schedule under which the drug in your possession falls under the Controlled Substances Act matters a lot when the prosecutor is determining how to charge your crime. For example, any crime involving a Schedule I substance will result in felony charges. The amount of drugs matters, too. For example, small amounts of Schedule V drugs could result in misdemeanor charges.
The Consequences of a Felony Drug Charge
A felony drug charge, even for first-time offenders, will result in severe criminal penalties. You will likely receive a prison sentence and a hefty court fine upon conviction. Your actual sentence will depend on the nature of the drug involved and your criminal history. The judge can give you a longer prison sentence for dealing Schedule I drugs or being a repeat offender. For example, if you are a first-time offender, you could receive one to three years in prison for simple possession of a regulated drug, but a repeat offender can receive three to fifteen years for the same offense.
A conviction for a felony drug charge will also have serious immigration consequences for immigrants. You could be deported after serving your sentence and marked as inadmissible to the United States.
A felony drug conviction will also affect your gun rights. Adults in California can freely obtain gun permits to possess or purchase a firearm. You lose that privilege temporarily or permanently after a felony conviction.
A felony drug conviction will result in a damaging criminal record that could continue to affect you years after serving your sentence. Criminal records are publicly available, and anyone conducting a background check on you can learn about the conviction. That includes crucial people like potential employers and landlords. These can determine how to treat you based on what they find in your criminal history.
Find a Competent Criminal Attorney Near Me
If you face felony drug charges in Sacramento, it helps to work closely with a skilled criminal attorney. Your attorney can study the details of your case to explain what resulted in felony charges, what your charges imply, and your options. They can also work with you to develop a defense strategy to compel the judge to dismiss or reduce your charges.
Our team of highly skilled and experienced criminal attorneys at Foos Gavin Law Firm handles all kinds of felony drug charges. We can work with you from the start of your legal journey until you obtain a fair outcome for your case. Call us at 916-779-3500 for more information about your charges and our services.