If you have been arrested on charges of drug possession, you are likely overwhelmed with questions about what it means for your future. Whether your charge involves illegal drugs, prescription medications, or something else, you should have an experienced drug possession attorney to advise you as soon as possible.
When Can a Person Be Charged With Drug Possession?
Virginia law states that any person who possesses a controlled substance without a valid prescription may be charged with drug possession. The specific factors in a drug possession case—including the nature of the charges, possible defenses, potential penalties, and the opportunity for reducing sentencing—depends on:
- The drug’s classification. Virginia law classifies certain drugs and substances according to their medicinal value as well as their potential for addiction and abuse. If you are found with a controlled substance that has medical uses and a low potential for addiction, your penalties will not be as severe as someone found with a highly addictive substance with no medical application.
- The amount of drugs found on your person. There are many differences in the types of drug possession charges allowed under the law. A suspect carrying a small amount of a minimally harmful substance may face a charge of simple possession—that is, possession for personal use. However, the more drugs found on a suspect, the more likely it is that they may be selling illegal drugs and could be charged with possession with intent to distribute.
- The extent of your drug activities. Drug possession charges can lead to further investigation into your existing or intended activities. If a police officer discovers baggies, scales, large quantities of cash, or weapons in a place under your control, you may be charged with possession with the intent to distribute.
- Whether you reported an overdose. In order to encourage lifesaving efforts, Virginia law has created an “affirmative defense” for suspects who seek emergency medical care for themselves or others when a drug- or alcohol-related overdose is in progress. If the suspect calls 911 or otherwise reports an overdose to a firefighter, paramedic, or police officer, they may be protected from certain possession or intoxication offenses.
What Is a Controlled Substance?
Under state law, drugs and chemicals are grouped into specific categories based on their medical use and their potential for abuse. The Virginia Drug Control Act classifies substances into six categories:
- Schedule I. Schedule I drugs have no recognized medical use and a high potential for abuse. Common Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, ecstasy, and peyote. A drug or chemical does not have to be listed as a Schedule I substance to be treated as such for criminal prosecution, but only perform or impact the user as a Schedule I substance.
- Schedule II. These drugs have a high potential for abuse and the ability to cause severe psychological or physical dependence. Schedule II drugs can include prescription medications (such as Vicodin, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Adderall, fentanyl, and Ritalin) and also illegal substances such as cocaine and methamphetamines.
- Schedule III. These drugs have a moderate potential for physical and psychological dependence. They include ketamine, anabolic steroids, testosterone, and painkillers containing codeine.
- Schedule IV. These substances carry a lower risk of abuse or dependence and include Xanax, Ativan, Darvocet, Ambien, Valium, and Rohypnol.
- Schedule V. Schedule V substances contain limited quantities of certain narcotics but have a low potential for abuse, such as cough syrups with codeine.
- Schedule VI. This schedule was created to address the abuse of certain substances which are not technically drugs but contain chemicals that may be used (or abused) recreationally. The category covers inhalants such as toluene (found in spray paint), nitrous oxide (found in aerosols), and amyl nitrite (poppers).
What Are the Penalties for Drug Possession in Virginia?
The penalties you face depend on the circumstances of your arrest and the severity of the crime. In general, you may face jail, fines, or imprisonment if you are convicted of possession of:
- A Schedule I or Schedule II substance. This is a Class 5 felony charge that carries a sentence of at least 1 year, up to 10 years, in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. In some cases, the court may lower the penalty to up to 12 months in jail, plus penalties and fees.
- A Schedule III substance. This is a Class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
- A Schedule IV substance. This Class 2 misdemeanor carries a term of up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- A Schedule V substance. This is a Class 3 misdemeanor. If convicted, you may be ordered to pay a fine of up to $500.
- A Schedule VI substance. This Class 4 misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $250.
- Marijuana. If you are found guilty of simple possession, then you are subject to a civil penalty of up to $25.
Let Us Handle Your Drug Possession Defense
Defendants should never attempt to “go it alone” after they are arrested for drug possession, for a few reasons. First, you do not have the same level of experience with the legal system and courts that the prosecutor does, making you ill-equipped to negotiate a deal or provide a strong legal defense. In addition, you may not be aware of the rules that police officers must follow when detaining a suspect or performing a search—rules that could provide grounds to have your case dismissed.
An attorney experienced in trying drug cases is best suited to identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, defend you throughout the investigation, and represent you in court if the case goes to trial. Don’t wait for the prosecutor to gather more evidence against you! Call or contact us today to learn your next steps.