Factors Determining DC Drug Penalties

Drug offenses are often prosecuted with the utmost vigilance, because of the threat that drugs pose to the local community. As a result, drug offenses also carry severe penalties that could have life-changing consequences for an individual. Some of the factors determining DC drug penalties include the schedule of the drug involved in the offense, the accused’s previous criminal history, and why/how they came to possess the drug. If an individual wants to know more about the drug penalties that they could expect to face, they should consult a skilled drug attorney that could answer their questions and advocate for them.

How Criminal History Affects Penalties

The maximum possible penalties a person may face in most drug-related offenses does not change depending on their criminal history. As an example, cases involving the possession with intent to distribute or straight distribution of drugs deemed to be narcotic or abusive such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, or PCP always have a maximum possible penalty of 30 years in jail. However, a person’s voluntary sentencing guidelines can be affected by their criminal history.

Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines

Voluntary sentencing guidelines create ranges of possible penalties the judge in DC considers when deciding the appropriate sentence for a case and are one of the major aspects determining DC drug punishments. When someone has no criminal history, the ranges are much lower than someone who has much a greater criminal history. For example, someone who was never arrested before and is charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine could be eligible for the possibility of receiving probation in their case, meaning they are eligible for not receiving any jail time in their case.

A person with a significant amount of criminal history who is charged with the same offense faces the same maximum possible penalty, but their sentencing guideline ranges are higher. The guidelines may recommend a certain period of incarceration in the event that the defendant is found guilty of that offense. To have a better understanding of the penalties a person faces if convicted of a drug offense, they should discuss with their attorney the maximum possible penalty and their sentencing guidelines based on their criminal history and the severity of the charges.

Circumstances of Drug Possession

The main elements determining penalties and the severity of a drug offense in DC are the circumstances surrounding possession of the drug. When the possession of small amounts of controlled substances of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, PCP, or other controlled substances suggests that the person was in possession of the substance for their personal use, the possession is treated as a less severe misdemeanor drug possession charge. When the circumstances lead the prosecutor to believe that the person was not in possession for their own personal use, but possessed a controlled substance with the intent to sell, they are more likely to treat that as a more severe felony level charge such as possession with intent to distribute.

Why Might a Prosecutor Believe Someone Possessed a Drug With the Intent to Distribute?

Circumstances that may lead a prosecutor to believe that a person possesses a substance with intent to distribute it include drug paraphernalia the person has such as grinders, empty baggies, scales, and other items in addition to the drug. Prosecutors may argue that the items are more consistent with the person selling as opposed to having the substance for their own use. Another factor is how a drug is packaged. For example, if a person is in possession of an amount of heroin divided into four separate baggies, the prosecutor might make the argument that the division of the substance and the way it is packaged are consistent with a person who is selling it and not a person who is using it. These factors could be argued because not every situation is the same.

Defense attorneys frequently argue that prosecutors make assumptions about how certain types of packaging and paraphernalia are consistent with distribution. The arguments might be assumptions and not definitive proof of intent to distribute. The context of the possession of a substance may be the main factor in determining whether prosecutors treat the offense as a misdemeanor offense versus a serious felony level offense. The factors that affect the severity of the offense are the same factors determining the substance punishments in DC an individual may face.

Impact of Types of Drugs Involved in Drug Offense on Prosecution

Another factor that might influence how a drug offense is prosecuted is the type of drug involved. As an example, the possession of a single PCP dipper that is a single cigarette dipped in PCP is charged with a misdemeanor simple possession of PCP. However, possession of any quantity of liquid PCP is charged as a felony level offense that can carry a maximum three years of prison time because of the liquid form of the drug.

The main factor that determines how a marijuana offense is charged is the weight of the marijuana. Possession with the intent to distribute up to half of pound of marijuana is charged as a misdemeanor offense. Anything more than half of a pound could be charged as a felony level offense. This only applies to marijuana level offenses. Marijuana is the only possession with intent to distribute charge that can be filed as a misdemeanor based on the weight of the alleged substance. If an individual wants to know more about drug offenses and the factors determining DC drug penalties, they should speak with a skilled drug lawyer that could advocate for them.