Drug convictions can hurt a person’s ability to maintain employment, housing, and immigration status. Because marijuana is gaining popularity and becoming legal in states across the country, people are sometimes surprised to learn that even a first offense of marijuana has a possible jail sentence of up to 30 days, a fine of no more than $500, and a license suspension for 6 months.  If the offense doesn’t involve driving, it may be possible to complete 50 hours of community service instead of forcing you to figure out how to get around without driving. A second or subsequent offense of possession of marijuana is a class 1 misdemeanor, which increases the possible jail time to 12 months and the fine up to $2,500.

If a marijuana possession charge is truly a first drug offense, you may qualify for a diversion program that will ultimately allow you to avoid a conviction, but will not necessarily avoid immigration problems if you are not an American citizen. 

Distribution of marijuana can be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on how much marijuana is involved.  No matter how much or how little it is, a distribution or possession with intent to distribute charge always has the risk of jail time, an expensive fine, and a mandatory 6 month suspension of your license.  It is possible to get a restricted license if you are convicted of distribution or possession with intent to distribute.

If you’ve been charged with possession or distribution of marijuana, you will need the assistance of an attorney in court.  If your rights were violated or if you did not know the drug was near you, it may be possible to win your case.  There may also be another defense available to you that can be explained by a qualified attorney.  Call Jennifer Raimo today to schedule a free consultation to discuss the circumstances leading up to your drug charge and any possible defenses you may have.

 

The police found drugs in my car, but I didn’t know it was there. Can I be convicted anyway?

The laws about drug possession are meant to allow for a conviction only if you knew there were drugs present in the area. To that end, the legislature has passed drug laws that say there is no presumption the owner or driver of a car knows about the presence of drugs in the car. The Court of Appeals has chipped away at this a little over the years in cases where the drugs were in plain view or close to the driver. If you were the driver and got charged for drug possession, you should discuss your situation with a lawyer in a confidential setting to learn more about whether there is a presumption in your case.

When police officers do find drugs in a car, they tend to ask questions about it before they write the ticket if it’s a misdemeanor or arrest if it’s a felony. They want you to admit to owning it so they don’t have to prove you knew it was there. It’s always best for the accused to remember they have the right to remain silent and politely refuse to answer questions without having a lawyer present.  No officer is going to call a lawyer to the scene to help you and they won’t like your answer, but they won’t be able to use it against you in court. That’s true even if they tell you that exercising your right to remain silent just tells them you’re guilty. They’ve already formed their opinion. Now let the lawyers fight it out in court.

 

Can more than one person be arrested for the same one baggie of drugs?

Yes. This type of case involves something lawyers and judges call “constructive possession.” That’s a fancy way of saying, the drugs don’t have to be in your hand or your pocket for you to be in possession of it. If multiple people have control over the same substance, than all of those people can be charged for it. For example, if the drugs are being stored somewhere and multiple people have authority to get access to the stash as needed, all of them are in possession of the substance.

I see this type of question come up most often when police break up parties or when drugs are found after searching a car that had passengers present in addition to the driver. The story I usually get is that once the drug was found, the police tried to get someone to be big enough to admit it was theirs. No one makes that mistake, and all get charged.

To use more of that fancy lawyer talk, mere proximity to an illegal substance is not sufficient to justify a conviction for possession. In normal people terms, that means that just because it was close to you doesn’t mean it was yours or even that you knew it was there. The guilty person in this scenario may be able to win in court (depending on whether there is other evidence pointing to him). Admitting ownership at the scene would hurt his case. Just like the surprise discovery of drugs in the car described in the question above, exercising the right to remain silent and get a lawyer can help your defense.

 

This is my first offense and they’ve got me. Can I keep this off my record?

There is a diversion program for first offense drug possession cases. It requires community service (how much depends on whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor), payment of court costs, a drug abuse program, and a 6 month suspension of your driver’s license.  If you successfully complete the program (and many addicts don’t), the case will be dismissed.  The case can never be expunged and you won’t be able to hide the arrest from anyone who does a detailed background check, but there will be no conviction on your record.

This program may be a good deal for some, but not for others, especially immigrants. USCIS treats participation in the program as a conviction in most cases. In many cases, that could trigger deportation proceedings or prevent you from coming back to the United States if you ever leave the country.

Regardless of your citizenship or immigration status and even if you are guilty, you should discuss your case with a lawyer to learn whether there are any possible defenses and to decide for yourself ahead of time whether the diversion program is a good option for you. Call Jennifer Raimo at (703)591-4868 or email her at jraimo@raimolawoffice.com to schedule a free 30 minute legal analysis of your case.

 

What if I don’t want my license to be suspended?

If you are convicted of possession of marijuana and you were not driving at the time of your police encounter, the judge may be willing to let you do 50 hours of community service instead of suspending your license.  This is in addition to the 24 hours required by a first offender diversion program if you participate in a diversion program. However, if you were driving a motor vehicle, the judge has no choice but to suspend your driver’s license.  The can authorize a restricted license to let you drive to work, school, a probation office, church, medical appointments, and some limited child-related reasons.

If you are charged with possession or distribution of marijuana, you should talk to a lawyer before going to court to learn about the risks you are realistically facing and any defenses you may have.  Call us at (703) 591-4868 to schedule your free consultation.