These four offenses are the most common types a person is likely to be charged with in relation to the unlawful possession of a controlled substance:
- Possession of a Controlled Substance
- Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
- Possession with Intent to Deliver
- Delivery of a Controlled Substance
In most instances, drug charges come about in one of two ways:
- Through a search of an individual or their vehicle after a police interaction or traffic stop.
- Through an investigation conducted by law enforcement where controlled substances are seized via buys or search warrants.
The first situation generally results in a person getting charged with misdemeanors. The second, not surprisingly, normally leads to felony charges. There is a tremendous amount of nuance to defending a drug case, especially a felony drug case. As a result, they can be very complicated and often involve preliminary hearings, suppression hearings, and trials.
As a general rule, the more rural the county the more harshly they will view any charge, including possession of a controlled substance. This is especially true when talking about felony drug possession. This dynamic in and of itself can significantly increase your risk of receiving a sentence of incarceration.
Your prior record is the other big factor when making an initial determination of the likely outcome in your case. Why?
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) and Possession Without Verdict (PWOV) are potentially available to Defendant’s with minimal or no prior record in some drug related cases. These programs allow some drug related charges to be expunged upon completion of the program. The programs generally consist of a period of probation along with other sanctions and treatment options depending on the facts and circumstances of your individual case. However, if you are not eligible for the ARD or PWOV program, especially if you are charged with a felony, it is likely you may be facing a period of incarceration. This is especially true if you have a significant prior record or were arrested in a rural county.
At that hearing, credibility is not at issue. What I mean by that is the Judge MUST accept EVERYTHING the Commonwealth witness says as true. This dynamic can frustrate a person charged with an offense, most notably in circumstances where they believe the facts are being exaggerated or fabricated all together. In that circumstance the defendant must understand that the preliminary hearing is only one stop in the criminal justice process. And, even though the burden is very much tilted towards the Commonwealth at that stage, the hearing can still serve as a great place to cross examine witnesses and lock them into testimony which can be used at trial if need be.
I’m sure everyone has heard someone say, “he got off on a technicality”. That technicality generally refers to a case or a charge being dismissed because someone’s Constitutional rights were violated. The Constitution exists to make sure law enforcement doesn’t over step their bounds. The by-product of this dynamic is that a violation of a person’s Constitutional rights occasionally leads to a case or a charge being dismissed. In essence, the Constitution doesn’t allow law enforcement to pull someone over or search their person without a reason. It also doesn’t allow them to search a car or a house without basis. In the end, these are just a few of the issues that could be front and center in your case. It is important you and your attorney understand these issues as that understanding can be the difference between a conviction and incarceration and the charges being dismissed.
Possession with Intent to Deliver cases are rarely direct evidence cases. What that means is that they are more often than not proven through circumstantial evidence. Unlike direct evidence where someone testifies they observed something through one of their senses, circumstantial evidence requires the use of reason to tie one fact to another. It’s the difference between saying John Doe possessed the drug because I pulled them out of his pocket and saying John Doe possessed the drugs because these facts and circumstances point to him. Because most PWID cases are circumstantial, the devil is in the details. As a result, your attorney’s understanding of those details and their interplay with the law will often make or break your case.
As one might expect, this is not an exhaustive list of the things you should be aware of as you navigate through the judicial system with a charge relating to the possession of a controlled substance. However, it’s a good start.