A conviction for drug sale or distribution can result in devastating legal penalties and collateral consequences that can affect every area of your life. Criminal court judges often sentence convicted drug offenders to significant jail time and require them to pay hefty financial penalties. In addition, a convicted drug offender may find it difficult to find a job—or a place to live—going forward.
If a police officer arrests you for suspected drug sales or trafficking, you should retain an experienced criminal defense attorney to represent you right away. The right lawyer can prevent you from facing overly harsh consequences or wrongful conviction of drug charges.
First, your lawyer can meet with you to discuss the circumstances surrounding your arrest and the alleged incident. Your lawyer can then explain your legal rights and options and help you select the best course of action for your case. Finally, your attorney can represent you at all criminal court proceedings and help you obtain the best possible result in your criminal drug case.
In most criminal cases, time is of the essence. A criminal defense attorney needs to have time to meet with you, explore potential legal defenses, and prepare your case for court. In fact, if you show up to your criminal court hearing without a lawyer present, the judge may assume that you are waiving your right to legal representation. Consequently, the judge can make you go forward with your case without legal representation. Doing so can have serious negative consequences.
Therefore, the sooner you retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer to represent you in your case, the better off you will likely be.
Criminal Drug Sale and Distribution Charges
Criminal charges for drug sales or trafficking are some of the most serious drug charges that a person can face.
To arrest someone for suspected criminal activity, the arresting officer must ordinarily have probable cause and a warrant—or probable cause and a warrant exception. Warrant exceptions include searches incident to a lawful arrest and searches under exigent circumstances, such as where an officer reasonably fears that a suspect might leave the scene or destroy evidence.
A police officer may arrest someone for drug sales if they visibly observe a person conducting a hand-to-hand drug transaction. For example, they may see a person give someone else a bag or container that’s consistent with the size and shape of street drugs. In exchange, the recipient may pay the first person money. If a police officer observes this type of transaction in a high drug or crime area, they may have sufficient probable cause to make an arrest on the spot.
At other times, an individual may incur charges for drug possession with intent to distribute if they possess drugs of a certain quantity. In that instance, the law presumes that the individual possessed the drugs with the specific intention of selling or distributing them.
In many cases, drug sales and trafficking charges are felonies. This means that if the state prosecutor obtains a conviction against them, they can receive more than one year of incarceration. Some drug charges, on the other hand, are misdemeanors. In most instances, a misdemeanor offense is punishable by one year or less of incarceration, monetary fines, and other penalties.
Individuals who incur criminal drug trafficking or sales charges may also incur charges for drug possession. For an individual to sustain drug possession charges, a police officer does not necessarily need to find drugs on their person. In fact, an individual can face drug possession charges if they constructively possess the drugs in question.
For a person to have constructive possession of a drug, the drug must be within their reach area and under their immediate control. For example, if the police uncover drugs in a house or vehicle where an individual was recently present, they can charge the individual with constructive drug possession. However, if the individual did not know about the drugs’ existence, they can raise that as a defense during their criminal court trial.
In addition to drug sale and possession charges, individuals may also face related drug charges, such as for possessing drug paraphernalia, like scales, pipes, and other equipment.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can help if you are currently facing criminal drug charges. Your lawyer can determine if you are eligible to raise certain legal defenses to your drug charge at trial and can explore other favorable legal options on your behalf.
The Prosecution’s Legal Burden of Proof in a Criminal Drug Case
In any criminal drug case, the state prosecutor has the legal burden of proof. Therefore, to obtain a conviction against you, they must prove every element of the charge. If they fail to prove even one element, they will not satisfy their legal burden, and your criminal charge—or your entire criminal case—may be subject to a complete dismissal.
On the other hand, the criminal defendant—or the individual facing the drug charges—does not need to prove anything in their case. In fact, the defendant does not even need to take the witness stand at trial or testify about the pending charges.
Although the criminal defendant does not need to prove anything in the case, their lawyer can raise one or more legal defenses at a criminal jury or bench trial. The defense may negate one or more elements of the prosecutor’s case and prevent them from satisfying their legal burden beyond a reasonable doubt.
A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer in your area can determine which defenses you may be eligible to raise at your trial and can help you formulate those defenses. Your attorney can then represent you at trial and advance a strong legal defense on your behalf.
Potential Penalties for Drug Sale and Distribution
For you to serve criminal penalties in a drug sale case, the state prosecutor must first obtain a conviction against you. This means they must establish every element of proof in their case beyond a reasonable doubt. A sentencing judge then has to impose various penalties.
Depending upon the specific drug crime, the sentencing judge may need to follow sentencing guidelines that the legislature establishes and revises from time to time. These guidelines often impose minimum and maximum penalties for specific drug charges, including drug sales.
Some of the most common penalties that drug offenders receive include:
- Jail time
- Large monetary fines
- Court-imposed community service
- Required attendance at an approved drug or alcohol rehabilitation program
- Supervised or unsupervised probation
The penalties that a criminal defendant receives depend upon various factors, including the type of drug they allegedly sold, the drug schedule, and the quantity of drugs they allegedly had in their possession and sold. Generally speaking, the more drugs they possessed, the higher their potential penalties upon conviction. Moreover, selling drugs like heroin or cocaine tends to generate high penalties upon conviction.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area can represent you at your sentencing hearing and argue for a fair and reasonable penalty on your behalf. If you voluntarily began drug or alcohol rehabilitation, your lawyer can bring that fact up at your sentencing hearing to show that you are taking your criminal charge—and your rehabilitation—seriously.
Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Drug Conviction
In addition to the potential legal penalties upon conviction, criminal drug sale charges can lead to numerous collateral consequences that can affect many areas of an individual’s life. This is because potential employers, landlords, and educational institutions frequently perform online criminal background checks on applicants.
If these individuals uncover a series of criminal drug convictions on your record, they may deny your application. Therefore, convicted drug offenders frequently have trouble finding and keeping a job, finding a place to live, and gaining admission to the college or university of their choice.
Moreover, if an individual is a current student at a college or university, the school may withdraw financial aid or scholarship funds if they determine that an individual sustained a criminal drug sale conviction.
Defenses to Criminal Drug Charges
Individuals facing criminal drug sale charges might raise several legal defenses to their charges at a trial.
Common defenses include:
- That they lacked knowledge of drugs that police uncovered in a home or motor vehicle where they were present
- That the drugs in question belonged to someone else
- That the police officer violated their constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizures and self-incrimination
Potential Constitutional Violations in Drug Sale Cases
If a police officer arrests you for a criminal drug sale, you should not answer any of their questions. This is because the police officer—or a state prosecutor—can ultimately use anything you say against you at your criminal court trial.
If a police officer starts asking you questions, you should immediately assert your Fifth Amendment right to the presence of legal counsel during questioning. At that point, the officer must stop asking you questions until a lawyer is available. If the officer continues to ask you questions and you say something incriminating, those statements may be subject to suppression at trial.
At other times, a police officer may uncover drugs during the course of an unlawful or random traffic stop. Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, individuals have a right to be free of unreasonable and invasive searches and seizures.
If a police officer pulls a vehicle over for a minor traffic violation and they observe drugs in plain view, they can arrest the driver and any occupants on criminal drug charges. They may do this even if the traffic stop was a pretext. However, police officers may not engage in random traffic stops. If they do, and they uncover drugs in the vehicle, those drugs may be subject to suppression at trial, given the potential constitutional violation.
A knowledgeable drug crime defense attorney in your area can determine if you are eligible to raise constitutional violations as a defense to your criminal drug sale charge.
Plea Deals in Criminal Drug Sale Cases: Advantages and Disadvantages
In some instances, the best possible result in a criminal drug sale case may be a favorable plea deal with a state prosecutor. Prosecutors sometimes put plea deals on the table if they are not confident in their ability to obtain a conviction against a drug offender.
In a plea deal, the prosecutor typically offers the defendant a concession, such as a charge reduction or a period of supervised or unsupervised probation. In exchange, the criminal defendant must plead guilty.
Plea deals have advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages of a plea deal is that you do not have to risk an uncertain outcome at trial. However, by agreeing to a plea deal, you waive your constitutional right to a jury trial, as well as your appeal rights.
A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area will share any plea deals with you and help you decide whether you should accept the deal or take your case to trial.
Call an Experienced Drug Crime Defense Lawyer Today
If you’re currently pending a criminal charge for drug sales or distribution, you should retain a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to represent you as soon as you can. Generally speaking, the sooner you retain legal counsel in your case, the better your chances of securing a favorable result.
A knowledgeable lawyer can help you raise successful defenses during the pretrial process, potentially allowing you to escape a criminal conviction altogether. However, in some instances, the best possible result may come through a plea deal with the state prosecutor. Your attorney can negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf and pursue a plea deal that is favorable to you.
If you choose to fight your charges in court, your attorney will represent you in a jury trial. If you ultimately sustain a conviction for drug sales or distribution, your lawyer can zealously represent you at your sentencing hearing and argue for a fair penalty.
In short, contacting a criminal defense attorney is the number one thing you should do after an arrest.