Drug Possession Laws, Charges & Statute of Limitations

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Drug possession is one of the most diverse and common types of criminal drug charges that Americans face today. It can also be one of the most serious, depending upon the specifics of the possession charge. Essentially, possession is the act of possessing illegal drugs, either on one’s person or on their property. Simple possession charges are often minor misdemeanor offenses, while manufacturing or intent to distribute possession charges are much more serious. Numerous guidelines were put in place in 1986 to help reduce the prevalence of drugs in the country, and today possession remains a very common offense.

Drug Possession Laws

Most of today’s possession laws stem from the drug laws signed into effect in the mid-1980s. These laws focused on creating minimum sentences for high level distributors of drugs, but still carry very strict guidelines for sentencing lower level offenders as well. Laws will vary depending on the type of drug in possession, the amount of the drug in possession, and more. Also, state laws may apply in addition to federal offenses.

In order to be convicted of possession, a suspect must be shown to knowingly possess a drug, that they had control over the drug, and that they knew beyond a reasonable doubt that the drug was considered a controlled substance. For instance, in some cases people in possession of prescription drugs have been shown to be unaware of the illegality of possessing the drug in question. These situations are rare, but do happen. In most cases there are two categories of possession one can be charged with – simple possession and possession with intent to distribute. Of these, possession with intent to distribute is the more serious and carries the heavier sentences.

Drug Possession Crimes and Charges

As mentioned above, the two main categories of possession are possession with intent to distribute and simple possession. Each of these is defined differently and carries very different sentences.

  • Simple possession is defined as possession of controlled substances for personal use only. For instance, those found with a small amount of marijuana or cocaine in a single bag or container will usually be found guilty of simple possession. These charges usually carry smaller prison sentences, probation, or fines.
  • Possession with intent to distribute is a much more serious offense and will often be a felony instead of a misdemeanor offense like simple possession often is. This is often referred to as ‘drug dealing’, and factors that determine whether or not intent to distribute is present include things like larger amounts of a drug, multiple containers or individual packages of drugs, paraphernalia like digital scales or other items used to facilitate the sale of drugs, and more. These charges can come with heavy fines and long prison sentences.

Different states have guidelines in effect that help determine what amount of a drug is considered to be simple possession and at what threshold intent to distribute is present, and the specifics of each case will determine what type of charges one faces.

Drug Possession Punishment

The punishment for possession can vary widely, due to numerous factors including the amount of a drug in possession, whether or not intent to distribute is present, previous criminal history, and the state charges are being filed in. As a result, the specifics of a punishment are difficult to list in broad terms.

Simple possession can carry fines of between $30 and $20,000 depending on the drug and the state one is being charged in. Prison sentences for simple possession can range from 15 days to up to 10 years. On the other hand, possession with the intent to distribute can carry fines of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars and carry prison sentences of up to 25 years or more.

There are many factors that can dictate the punishment a person faces. Criminal history – particular history of drug possession or distribution – will increase the sentence. The type of drug will as well. Drugs like marijuana often carry lighter penalties than cocaine or methamphetamine. And the amount of the drug will also factor into sentencing.

Drug Possession Sentencing Guidelines

There are numerous specific guidelines used by judges during possession sentencing. According to state and federal laws, several things will be used to determine the sentence including:

  • Age of offender
  • Previous criminal history
  • Type of drug
  • Amount of drug
  • Any additional factors like paraphernalia or items that aid in distribution.

Drug Possession Statute of Limitations

In most cases the statute of limitations for drug charges is 3 years, after which an offender cannot be charged or convicted of the crime.

Drug Possession Cases

Possession is such a common charge that there are simply too many notable possession cases to list. Celebrities ranging from Paris Hilton to Gary Busey to Bruno Mars have all been charged with possession at one time or another, and thousands of others face the charges every day.

Drug Posession Laws by State

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming

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Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

About Geoffrey Nathan, Esq.

Geoffrey G Nathan is a top federal crimes lawyer and Chief Editor of FederalCharges.com. He is a licensed attorney in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1988, admitted to practice in both Federal and State courts. If you have questions about your federal case he can help by calling 877.472.5775.