In Pennsylvania, drug possession charges vary depending on the amount and type of substance you allegedly possessed. Small possession charges generally include “street drugs,” like cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. And, unlike in other states, marijuana or cannabis products are still illegal in Pennsylvania.
If you’re facing simple possession charges, you could benefit from having an experienced lawyer on your side. Make no mistake––even a “small” possession charge can have big consequences. A Montgomery criminal defense attorney can help you navigate simple possession charges and fight for your freedom.
Understanding Small Possession Charges in Pennsylvania
It can be hard to keep up with drug laws in the United States. Many states have decriminalized certain drugs or allowed individuals with certain medical conditions to lawfully purchase and possess some controlled substances. Other states have legalized the recreational use of cannabis but still prohibit possession of large amounts.
You could face charges of simple possession if you’re caught with no more than:
- Thirty grams of marijuana
- Eight grams of marijuana concentrate (like “dabs”)
- Eight grams of hash
- Five grams of cocaine
- One gram of heroin
The state does not outline what constitutes a “small” amount of methamphetamine. Yet, because it’s a controlled substance, the state does not take possession in any regard lightly.
What Happens if the Police Catch Me With a Prohibited Substance?
If you or a loved one was charged with marijuana possession, you probably have many questions. Will I have to go to jail? Will I have a permanent criminal record? What if the illegal drugs weren’t even mine? It’s important to know what to expect.
Here’s the first thing to know: a drug charge is not the same thing as a drug conviction. Anybody charged with a criminal offense is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Still, if convicted, you could face the following penalties based on the type and amount of drugs in your possession:
- Up to 365 days in jail
- A fine of up to $5,000
- Driver’s license suspension (if you were pulled over with drugs in your vehicle)
Matters change slightly if you’re found with marijuana. In that instance, you could face a misdemeanor charge if you’re found with 30 grams or less. This could land you in jail for 30 days and compel you to pay a $500 fine.
You Could Face Penalties Outside the Criminal Justice System
There can also be many other consequences of a simple possession charge. For instance, if you’re a college student, you may face repercussions from your college or university. Having the charge on your record could disqualify you from certain scholarships or educational opportunities.
You could also:
- Have problems retaining custody of your children
- Have a conviction come up on background checks
- Be barred from living in certain residential communities
- Lose your driver’s license
What Are My Options for Fighting a Small Possession Charge in Pennsylvania?
If you were recently arrested for small drug possession, don’t lose hope. You still have several options for reducing or avoiding criminal penalties. A criminal defense lawyer experienced a drug possession cases can help you fight the charge by developing a strong defense.
Some of the most common marijuana possession defense strategies include:
Mistake of Fact
It’s possible that law enforcement made a mistake when they arrested you for small drug possession. For example, if you share a home with roommates, a small amount of marijuana may have belonged to one of them. If you were caught with marijuana in your vehicle, it’s possible that you didn’t know the marijuana was in there. It can be difficult to successfully prove this in court, but working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help.
Illegal Search and Seizure
Did you know that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects your right to privacy? The police cannot search you or your property without a valid reason for doing so. When it comes to apartments, houses, and other homes, police usually need a search warrant to search the property.
The standard is lower for vehicles, but the police still need probable cause to search a motor vehicle. If drugs were discovered during an illegal search, a criminal defense lawyer could have certain pieces of evidence barred from your trial.
You’re a Medical Marijuana Patient
Pennsylvania allows individuals with certain medical conditions to legally possess marijuana. If you are involved in the medical marijuana program, your lawyer could have your charge dropped.
Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) for a Small Possession Charge
The criminal justice system is usually focused on punishing people who have been convicted of crimes. Fortunately, Pennsylvania lawmakers also understand that many offenders deserve a second chance.
Putting somebody in jail for a first-time, nonviolent offense can often do more harm than good. People who go to jail often have fewer educational and employment opportunities, increasing the chances that they will re-offend. The ARD program was developed to give certain offenders the option for rehabilitation instead of punitive consequences.
What Is ARD, and How Can it Help Me?
ARD is a pretrial program designed to help people accused of low-level offenses instead of punishing them. If you complete ARD, your drug possession charge will be dropped. You won’t have to go to jail or endure the stress and expense of a criminal trial. Even better, depending on your circumstances, you could ask the court to expunge the offense later. Once a criminal record has been expunged, it’s not viewable by employers, landlords, or most people in general.
What Do I Have to Do to Complete ARD?
To complete ARD and get your small possession charges dismissed, you may have to:
- Perform community service
- Complete a drug or alcohol evaluation
- Complete drug or alcohol education classes
- Pass a drug test
If you are interested in the ARD program, consider working with a criminal defense lawyer experienced in ARD applications. After all, the District Attorney won’t automatically accept you into the program. You’ll need to convince them that you deserve to be admitted. Your lawyer can help you fill out the application and explain the other steps needed to qualify.
Let Our Small Possession Charge Lawyer Help You
Being charged with any type of criminal offense, including a small possession charge, can be scary and confusing. If you were arrested and charged with drug possession, criminal defense attorney David C. McKenzie III can help.
Attorney McKenzie understands what you’re going through and has helped many people in your exact situation. He can explain your legal rights and help you understand what to expect. He can also assist with the ARD application process and explain your responsibilities if you choose to participate.
Call McKenzie Law Firm, P.C. for help today.