In the complex labyrinth of criminal law, facing drug possession charges can be daunting. Pennsylvania's drug possession laws can bring severe consequences, including steep fines and imprisonment. If you find yourself facing these charges, it's crucial to equip yourself with an understanding of the defenses available. At the esteemed law firm of van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin, we're committed to guiding individuals through this process, ensuring that their rights and interests are fiercely protected.
Understanding Pennsylvania's Drug Possession Laws
Pennsylvania, like many other states, has stringent laws concerning the possession of controlled substances. The consequences for breaking these laws can range from fines to incarceration, depending on the specifics of the offense. For anyone living in or visiting Pennsylvania, it's crucial to be aware of these laws to avoid potential legal troubles.
Controlled Substances and Their Classifications
In Pennsylvania, the Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act categorizes drugs and other controlled substances into five schedules based on factors like their potential for abuse, accepted medical use, and overall safety:
- Schedule I: These drugs are considered to have a high potential for abuse, with no accepted medical use. Examples include heroin, LSD, and certain forms of marijuana.
- Schedule II: These substances also have a high potential for abuse, but they may have some accepted medical use. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, and certain opioid painkillers.
- Schedule III: Drugs in this category have a lower potential for abuse than those in Schedules I and II and have an accepted medical use. Anabolic steroids and some barbiturates fall under this category.
- Schedule IV: These drugs have an even lower potential for abuse than Schedule III substances and are accepted for medical use. Common examples include diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax).
- Schedule V: These substances have the lowest potential for abuse relative to the other schedules and include drugs like cough preparations containing less than 200 milligrams of codeine.
Possession Offenses and Penalties
Simple Possession: This refers to knowingly and intentionally possessing a controlled substance without a valid prescription. In Pennsylvania, simple possession is typically charged as a misdemeanor. Penalties may include:
- For a first offense: Up to 1 year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
- For subsequent offenses: Up to 3 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Possession with Intent to Deliver (PWID): If one possesses a larger quantity of a drug, they may face charges for PWID. This is a more severe offense and is typically charged as a felony. The penalties depend on the type and amount of drug in possession and can range from 1 year to 15 years in prison, with fines up to $250,000.
Marijuana Possession: While there has been a national trend towards the decriminalization of marijuana, it's still illegal in many parts of Pennsylvania. Possession of less than 30 grams for personal use is a misdemeanor, which may result in up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Possession of more than 30 grams is a more serious offense with steeper penalties.
Pennsylvania has legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. Qualified patients, under the guidance of a physician, can obtain and use medical marijuana from approved dispensaries. However, there are strict regulations concerning the amounts and forms of medical marijuana, and non-compliance can still result in criminal charges.
Strategies to Fight Drug Possession Charges
In Pennsylvania, as in many states, drug possession charges can carry significant legal repercussions. However, various defense strategies can be employed to contest these charges. Here are some of the primary approaches a defense attorney might consider:
- Challenge the Legality of the Search and Seizure: One of the cornerstones of the American legal system is the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. If law enforcement did not have a valid warrant or a legally sound reason to search your person, vehicle, or property, then any evidence found might be deemed inadmissible in court.
- Dispute Actual Possession: Being in the vicinity of drugs doesn’t automatically make you guilty of possessing them. The prosecution must demonstrate that you had knowledge of the drugs and had control over them. For instance, if you were in a car where drugs were found, but they belonged to another passenger, this could be grounds for defense.
- Question the Substance's Authenticity: It needs to be established without a doubt that the substance in question is indeed an illegal drug. This typically requires lab testing. If there are doubts about the substance's identity or if proper testing procedures weren't followed, this could be a potential defense.
- Highlight Medical or Prescription Use: Some individuals legally possess drugs because they have a valid prescription. If the drugs you're charged with possessing are part of a legal prescription, this could serve as a robust defense. This is especially pertinent with substances like medical marijuana, provided that its use and possession align with PA's medical marijuana laws.
- Raise Doubts About Possession Amount: The amount of a drug found in one's possession can greatly influence the charges and potential penalties. If there is a discrepancy or doubt about the measured amount, it can affect the case's outcome.
- Diversion Programs for First-time Offenders: Pennsylvania offers certain diversion programs for first-time drug offenders. Such programs may require the individual to undergo counseling, drug treatment, or educational programs. Successful completion can lead to reduced charges or even having the charges dropped entirely.
- Prove Lack of Knowledge or Intent: If you can demonstrate that you were unaware of the presence of drugs or had no intention to possess them, it might serve as a defense. For instance, if someone else left drugs in your home without your knowledge, this might be a viable defense strategy.
- Challenge the Chain of Custody: If there were breaks in the chain of custody of the drug evidence, or if it can be shown that the evidence could have been tampered with, the evidence might be rendered inadmissible.
Remember, every case is unique. It's essential to work closely with a knowledgeable defense attorney who understands Pennsylvania's specific drug laws and can guide you toward the best possible strategy based on your individual circumstances.
Benefits of Hiring a Skilled Defense Attorney
- Expertise in Local Laws: Every jurisdiction has its nuances. An experienced defense attorney, like those at van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin, will be intimately familiar with Pennsylvania's drug laws and the intricacies of local court systems.
- Access to Resources: Defense attorneys have access to a myriad of resources, from forensic experts to investigators, which can be invaluable in building a solid defense.
- Negotiation Skills: Many drug possession cases never see a courtroom. Instead, they're settled through plea bargains. A seasoned attorney can negotiate favorable terms, reducing potential penalties.
- Protection of Your Rights: The legal system can be overwhelming. A dedicated attorney ensures that your rights are upheld at every stage, from arrest to trial.
- Peace of Mind: Facing criminal charges is stressful. Having an expert in your corner provides reassurance and guidance during uncertain times.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer at van der Veen, Hartshorn, and Levin, for a Free Consultation About Your Case Today
Drug possession charges in Pennsylvania are grave, but they're not insurmountable. With the right defense strategy and a seasoned attorney, there's a fighting chance to protect your future. At van der Veen, Hartshorn and Levin, we're driven by a passion for justice and a commitment to our clients. When the stakes are high, remember that you don't have to face it alone.