Whether police claim to have witnessed you using or receiving illegal drugs or they discovered a controlled substance on you in the course of a search, you now have reason to be concerned for your future. Possession charges may not seem as serious as trafficking or manufacturing drugs, but they can still complicate your life and, depending on certain factors, may be quite serious after all.
Having drugs in your possession can include having them on your person, in your home or in your vehicle. While the things you choose to have in your possession may seem like a personal matter, the law says otherwise. In fact, since the early 1970s, law enforcement policies related to drug possession have become dramatically harsher, and the large percentage of those imprisoned for nonviolent drug crimes may shock you.
Breaking it down
Understanding the elements of a drug possession charge that determine its severity and the potential impact of a conviction is important for mounting an aggressive defense strategy. For example, the severity of the charges typically depends on the amount and type of drug you allegedly had in your possession. The government categorizes drugs by Schedules, with the highest, Schedule V, including drugs less likely to be abused, like codeine. The lowest, Schedule I, includes drugs that are very likely to lead to abuse, such as heroin.
The type of drug police say you had in your possession is only one factor, however. Law enforcement agents will also carefully weigh the amount of the substance they accuse you of possessing. The greater the amount, the higher the potential penalties for a conviction. This is because possessing a large amount typically involves the intent to distribute.
Other factors can make your situation even more precarious, especially if your possession charge is a felony, for example, if police claim to have found items used to manufacture drugs, if you have weapons in your home or car, or if you have previous felony convictions. In fact, California and other states have a controversial “three strikes” law, which carries mandatory minimum prison sentences for a third felony conviction.
A conviction for drug possession may jeopardize your job, your eligibility for housing or government programs, and some of your civil rights. Defending yourself against the charges may involve challenging the evidence, the method police used to collect the evidence or other factors that may have violated your rights. However, it is important to begin building that defense as soon as possible after your arrest.