Drug Possession Lawyer
Generally, there are three types of drug crimes—possession, possession with the intent to distribute, and distribution. Between the three, there are differences in the severity of the crime as well as what the government must prove to convict someone. Let’s start with simple possession.
In the District of Columbia, possession of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor offense that carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. This law applies to most drugs except a few. If someone is caught with cocaine, heroin, prescription pills, amphetamines, crystal meth, etc., this charge would apply. Marijuana is treated differently under the D.C. Code and so is PCP. Possession of PCP in its liquid form is a felony. On the other hand, is legal under local DC law (not federal) to possess a limited amount of marijuana for recreational purposes. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia prosecutes all drug crimes, including possession. In a possession case, the government just has to prove you possessed the contraband. Most of the time the government will charge this offense when it believes the person arrested intended to use the drugs for personal use (not to sell them).
While it is possible to get jail time for drug possession offenses, DC is a jurisdiction that leans more towards treatment than incarceration for drug possession. Unless the person is a habitual and repeat offender, the prosecutors will often offer some type of pretrial diversion for simple drug possession offenses. Diversion could include doing community service and staying out of trouble in exchange for getting your case dismissed. In addition, DC Superior Court has two specialized courts that often allow people to get their charges dismissed if they complete long term drug or mental health treatment. Both Drug Court and Mental Health Court exist as options to either pleading guilty or going straight to trial. However, to be allowed in drug court, both the prosecutor and the Pretrial Services Agency must agree its an appropriate resolution for the case.
There is another diversion type resolution available for simple possession cases. This option is called 904.01(e) probation. There is a specific code provision that permits a first-time drug offender to plead guilty and ask the Court to put them on 904.01(e) probation. If the judge agrees, then the person does not automatically get convicted. In fact, if the person successfully completes the probation, then not only will the case get expunged but the arrest does as well. In Maryland, and other states, they often refer to this as “Probation before Judgment” or “PBJ.” This specific provision is only available to the simple possession charge and the person cannot have a prior conviction for a drug offense.
Possession with intent to distribute, however, is a felony offense where the government will not typically offer pretrial diversion. The main difference in what the government must prove is that the defendant not only possessed illegal drugs but intended to distribute them. That requires the government to show evidence in DC of what’s referred to as “indicia of sale.” Indicia of sale could include things like little baggies, scales, packaging material, and large amounts of cash. The quantity of the drug possessed also may impact whether the charge is simple possession of possession with intent to distribute. This is an area where the DC marijuana law gets fuzzy as well. Its legal under local law to possess and purchase a limited amount of marijuana. However, it remains illegal to sell marijuana. So, a buyer can legally buy weed but the seller cannot legally sell it. To make things even more confusing, its technically legal under DC law to “gift” limited amounts of marijuana.
Individuals and businesses who operate in this arena can find themselves charged with a felony offense of possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute. In addition, for possession of drugs other than marijuana, “intent to distribute” includes giving it away or “gifting”. So, for example, possessing cocaine or “molly” with the intent to share it with friends, could be prosecuted as a felony offense in DC.
The most serious type of drug offense in DC is distribution. The difference between distribution and possession with intent to distribute is the physical act of distributing the drug. In other words, the drugs must change hands. These cases typically involve an undercover officer actually purchasing drugs from a suspected drug dealer.
Distribution, like possession with intent to distribute, is a felony offense in DC. Most judges adhere to the District of Columbia Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines when giving a felony sentence. The Sentencing Guidelines can call for significant jail time depending on the person’s criminal history and the circumstances surrounding the offense.
Whether its marijuana, cocaine, or otherwise, if you are charged with a drug offense, its important for you to talk to an experienced DC drug lawyer. Attorney Jay Mykytiuk has experience in both federal and state drug offenses in both Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug offense, contact Attorney Jay P. Mykytiuk today for a confidential case assessment.