Most people who are arrested for drug possession are arrested by local law enforcement. However, they may end up charged with federal criminal charges, even if they have never left the state, because drug possession can be both a state and federal crime. Federal drug charges often involve serious mandatory minimum sentences, even when they involve a relatively small amount of a controlled substance.
Federal Drug Categories
Under the Controlled Substance Act (CSA), the government regulates the possession of drugs, separating various substances into five schedules based on their perceived potential for abuse, medical use, and safety.
- Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, with no currently accepted medical value in the U.S. These are considered dangerous drugs, but the federal government still includes marijuana as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin, LSD, Ecstasy and Bath Salts.
- Schedule II drugs still represent a high level for abuse, but they are considered to have a currently accepted medical value in the U.S. These include drugs such as methamphetamines, codeine, fentanyl, morphine, OxyContin, and Percocet.
- Schedule III drugs have a currently accepted medical use in the U.S., but still have a potential for abuse or safety concerns lower than Schedule I or II drugs. These include some appetite suppressants, depressants like ketamine, and anabolic steroids.
- Schedule IV drugs are classified as having a low potential for abuse or dependence, including commonly prescribed drugs like Xanax, Valium, Ambien and Ativan.
- Schedule V drugs have an even lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV drugs, and may have a lower quantity of certain narcotics, such as prescription cough medicine.
Simple possession of a controlled substance generally involves a small amount of drugs, that were intended for personal use, rather than for sale to another person. Possession can be proven through actual possession, such as having the drug in your pocket, or by constructive possession. You may be considered to be in constructive possession of drugs if you knew or should have known about the drugs, and they are found in an area within your control.
Distribution of small amounts of marijuana may sometimes be treated as simple possession. Whether someone is charged with federal drug possession or the more serious charge of federal drug trafficking will usually depends on the quantity of drugs involved. A larger amount of drugs raises the presumption to trafficking; however, this amount depends on the individual substance involved.
Federal Drug Possession Penalties
Federal drug possession charges may carry heavier penalties that state possession charges. Simple possession can result in up to a year imprisonment, with fines of $1,000 or more. A second possession conviction can result in up to 2 years in federal prison, and fines of $2,500 or more. Any subsequent conviction can mean a minimum of 90 days in a federal facility, with up to 3 years behind bars, and fines of $5,000 or more.
A federal drug conviction can lead to forfeiture of property involved, such as a vehicle. Federal drug convictions may also result in long term penalties, including becoming ineligible to own a firearm, and the denial of federal benefits, including student loans and scholarships.
Even though almost half of the states have decriminalized medical marijuana possession, and a number of states are even adopting recreational marijuana policies, marijuana is still considered a Schedule I drug under federal law.
Defenses to Drug Possession Charges
There are a number of available legal defenses when someone is charged with federal drug possession charges. Possible defenses include violation of Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections, showing the defendant was not in constructive possession of the drugs, or that the drugs belonged to someone else. The specific defenses available will depend on the facts and circumstances in the individual case. Your federal drug possession defense lawyer will be able to identify the best defenses available in your case.
With the mandatory minimum federal sentences associated with drug charges, federal drug crime charges should be taken very seriously. With an experienced team of federal criminal defense lawyers on your side, you won't have to face these charges alone. For more information on the federal criminal process, please click here and for more information on drug conspiracy, you can click here.