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Those convicted of drug possession can potentially face serious penalties at sentencing depending on the type of drug possessed, the amount and the defendant’s prior criminal record.

Possession with intent to distribute drugs charge can carry even heavier penalties. In some cases, the prosecutors may find a reason to offer plea deals to defendants. But every defendant should have a qualified lawyer on their side.

Check out our guide on what to do when facing a drug possession charge.

What Is Drug Possession?

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) best defines drug charges. It covers all angles of drugs and crime, from illegal substance possession to aiding and abetting, conspiracy, drug supply and more.

A conviction can happen even if it was only temporary custody or control. Custody is the physical possession of a substance, while control is having complete ownership of the illegal product.

Law enforcement must provide proof that the illicit substances are in the person’s control or custody. Before any changes happen, police also need to confirm that the defendant actually knew about the drug or circumstantial evidence supports their knowledge of the drug.   For example, finding the illicit product in the defendant’s home or car alone without evidence of the defendant’s knowledge and dominion over the drug is not enough to convict someone of drug possession.

Your Rights During an Arrest

During an arrest, it’s especially imperative to know what your rights are. Authorities should only need basic details to identify the suspect. By law, anyone can decline to answer anything until a lawyer is present.


What to Do at the Police Station

If a suspect goes through processing at a police station, they still have the right to remain silent. They also have the right to request to speak to a lawyer on the phone. If there are any translation barriers, a translator can be provided.

This is also why it is important to have an experienced lawyer to consult with. They can provide a complete overview of what their options are. This ensures that they have the best chance at actually posting bail.

How to Prove Drug Possession

The court must prove that there was drug possession beyond all reasonable doubt. They must also prove that the suspect was in custody or control of a prohibited substance. If authorities found the illegal product in the suspect’s pocket, for example, then they have a strong case.

Defendants facing possession of controlled substance charges should prepare their case. A good lawyer collects any necessary evidence and ensures everything is in order. It could be more work on the defendant if they have to prepare their case themselves.

What Are the Options in Court?

Defendants need to speak with an experienced law firm to better understand the court. The defendant needs a complete understanding of their drug charges prior to court. A qualified lawyer can give them tailored information on what their options are in court.

A guilty plea suggests that the defendant should plead guilty in court. Though this is not the most ideal option, it can show cooperation. This could result in a lighter charge than expected.

A not guilty plea suggests that the defendant would rather prove their innocence. It means that they are willing to fight in court until their name clears or until the next verdict.

What Happens If Found Guilty

If found guilty of drug possession, the sentence can depend on the defendant’s criminal history. It can also depend on where the illegal substance was, the amount, the type of substance, and the intended purpose.

The court must also take into account all the facts and evidence they can find. This is when having a professional lawyer becomes crucial to the case. They can speak to the judge or panel on the defendant’s behalf to best illustrate their situation..

The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) demands that federal drug charges or arranged by “schedule”. These federal drug “schedules” is to distinguish drugs based on the threat they post to public safety. Drugs classified in Schedule I or II are deemed the most harmful.


In Summary

The penalties for drug possession vary depending on which state you live in. 

To find out how to get professional help with potential drug charges, contact us.

Areas of Practice

  • Criminal Law
  • Traffic Violations
  • Reckless Driving
  • Felonies and Misdemeanors

Bar Admissions

  • Virginia, 1985
  • District of Columbia, 1987
  • U.S. District Court Eastern District of Virginia, 1985
  • U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, 1987
  • U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit, 1985
  • U.S. Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Federal Claims


  • University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville, Virginia
    • J.D. - 1985
  • Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    • B.A. magna cum laude - 1982
    • Honors: Phi Beta Kappa
    • Major: Economics & Philosophy
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