Simple Possession of Marijuana in Magistrate Court
Marijuana laws are changing rapidly in other States as the national move towards the legalization of marijuana continues to gain traction. The Federal government is still opposed and many State, including South Carolina, are still focused on the criminalization of marijuana possession.
Simple Possession of Marijuana is one of the most frequently charged drug offenses in South Carolina. You should never plead to this charge without first speaking with a criminal defense lawyer.
First, many defenses are available in drug possession cases and each case is very different. A defense lawyer who knows the best way to attack a drug possession charge can make a huge difference in how a case is resoled.
Second, drug charges build on each other. So, while a first offense Simple Possession of Marijuana ticket might not seem like a big deal, getting caught with weed a second time is much more serious. Every time you come in contact with law enforcement, your record is on display and officers are trained to be much more suspicious of a person with any drug conviction.
Third, marijuana may very well become legalized in our lifetimes. Why plead guilty to something that one day may be de-criminalzied when so many other, better options are available?
Distribution / Possession with Intent to Distribute Level Charges
If you have been charged with the distribution of drugs it could be for several different reasons. Some reasons include:
Amount of drugs seized,
The way the drugs are packaged,
Statements and evidence from a confidential informants, or
Other items found along with drugs like scales or kitchen baggies.
For example, imagine a person purchases two ounces of marijuana from a dealer who has trouble with keeping a good flow of inventory. This person uses his or her own scale to make sure the weight is correct and leaves for home. Unfortunately on the way home he or she rolls through a stop sign in the view of law enforcement. During the traffic stop the officer calls a drug dog who alerts on the trunk. Inside the trunk the officer finds two ounces of marijuana and the scales.
The person will be arrested for Possession of Marijuana with Intent to Distribute. Cases such as this are common; however, distribution cases arise in many other ways as well.
Aggressively defending yourself against a distribution case is very critical. Sometimes prosectors make a plea deal sound good by offering probation, just a fine, or even perhaps time served. However, depending on the drug involved this can be disastrous if arrested a second time for distribution. There really is no such thing as a "slap on the wrist" drug distribution conviction.
Drug Trafficking Charges
Drug trafficking is the most serious General Sessions drug charge. The amount of weight required to meet trafficking status varies greatly from drug to drug. For example possession of 9.9 grams of cocaine is distribution, but possession of 10.0 grams of cocaine is trafficking.
Trafficking cases often involve much more police investigative work than other types of drug cases. To defend against a drug trafficking case, every step taken by law enforcement must be scrutinized for errors, deficiencies and constitutional violations.
Depending on the weight involved, drug trafficking convictions carry some of the longest prison sentences in South Carolina. Additionally many drug trafficking charges are classified as most serious and violent.
The Confidential Informant in Drug Cases
Many cases involve the use of confidential informants. The strategy of offering a person "help" with a drug charge if he or she buys drugs from someone else is one of the oldest used by law enforcement.
However, the "help" that the informant often is offered does not turn out to be much of anything. Further, working as an informant can be dangerous. Informants meet with the police and be searched, wired with a microphone and camera, and given official police funds. The person must then exchange the money for drugs and submit to another search.
Many, many times an arrest is made through the use of confidential informants. Even thought the government will try to protect the identity of confidential informants, many people are able to figure out who was working with law enforcement anyway.
Working as an informant is risky, not matter what the police say. You should talk to the criminal defense lawyer before making the decision to work as a confidential informant.
Enhanced Penalties for Subsequent Convictions
Almost every drug conviction is used the make the penalty for a future drug conviction more harsh. Even if the government makes it "affordable" to plead guilty by offering a light sentence for a first offense, carefully consider before accepting a plea deal that will put a drug conviction on your criminal record.
A person who was convicted of cocaine that was at a party in high school and then convicted of unlawfully possession a prescription drug in college can face a multi-year prison sentence if convicted of a drug charge that otherwise would not carry as much time. Always think about the future and talk to a criminal defense lawyer if you have any questions. Remember, no part of the system is designed to protect your rights your record and your future.
Actual Possession vs. Constructive Possession vs. Mere Presence
The concept of "actual possession" makes sense. If a baggie of marijuana is found in the backpack that was taken off a person's back and searched, the police would conclude the wearer of the backpack was in actual possession of marijuana.
The legal concept of "constructive possession" is much more subjective. For example, it allows law enforcement to charge everyone in a vehicle with marijuana found in the center console. Or everyone in a house that gets searched during the execution of a warrant and be charged with drugs hidden in a kitchen cabinet. The concept has just about as many other applications as can be thought up.
Essentially a constructive possession theory of guilt allows the police to charge everyone in the proximity of illegal drugs who could have had custody or control over the drugs with ownership of the drugs.
"Mere presence" is defense that can be asserted to argue that a person was not in constructive possession of drugs. Simply being in the vicinity of drugs is not enough to be convicted of drug possession.
State Grand Jury Cases
State Grand Jury cases are prosecuted by the Attorney General. These cases involve a ring of drug activity that occurs in several different counties in South Carolina. Often the Attorney General starts a State Grand Jury case after the Federal government has already prosecuted the people it views as the main players in the drug operation.
State Grand Jury cases are somewhat modeled after the Federal system. The Attorney General claims that each member or person linked to the drug ring is individually responsible for the entire weight of all the drugs the ring was responsible for moving across county lines and storing or selling.
Defending against charges adopted by the Attorney General's office requires the skill and knowledge of a criminal defense lawyer who has dealt the State Grand Jury cases before. I will be happy to share my knowledge and experience defending against State Grand Jury charges.