DRUG CHARGES IN VIRGINIA
Drug charges in Virginia include crimes involving the possession, distribution, and manufacture of illegal drugs. While the legislature in Virginia has changed many of the drug laws recently, a conviction for a felony drug offense can still carry harsh penalties, including mandatory minimum prison sentences.
Possessing Controlled Substances in Virginia
Under Section 18.2-250 of the Code of Virginia, the simple possession of a controlled substance, such as meth, cocaine, or heroin, is a Class 5 felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison, unless the controlled substance is marijuana, which is a misdemeanor.
If it is a person’s first arrest for unlawful drug possession, that person may be eligible for their case to be dismissed under Section 18.2-251, even after losing at trial, if the person completes a drug treatment course and other requirements imposed by the Court. In other cases, the jury can limit a defendant’s sentence to one year in prison even after the defendant is found guilty of illegal drug possession.
Regardless of whether the case is deferred, dismissed, or results in conviction, a defendant is eligible to have a simple possession offense sealed under Section 19.2-392.12 after 10 years. Our firm has written about Virginia’s new laws allowing people to expunge or seal their prior convictions. (LINK HERE).
Distributing and Manufacturing Controlled Substances in Virginia
Under Section 18.2-248 of the Virginia Code, it is illegal to manufacture, sell, give, or distribute controlled substances. It is also illegal to possess controlled substances with the intent to manufacture, sell, give, or distribute them. The law also applies to “imitation” controlled substances.
In a prosecution for manufacturing or distributing “imitation” controlled substances, such as synthetic marijuana, relevant evidence of a person’s intent to manufacture or distribute illegal drugs can include whether there was an exchange of money for drugs, the quantity of the drugs, the actual chemical composition of the drugs, and the price of the drugs. Law enforcement will also try to use phone data, confidential informants, and other tools to try to show that the drugs a person possessed were intended for distribution.
The penalties for distributing or manufacturing illegal drugs are harsh. Some charges carry long mandatory minimums sentences based on the quantity of drugs involved in the offense or the person’s prior criminal history. Simple distribution of a controlled substance carries a sentence of up to 40 years in prison. If it is a person’s second conviction for illegal drugs, they can receive a mandatory minimum sentence of three years. For a third conviction, the mandatory minimum is 10 years, and must be imposed consecutively to any other sentence.
The following thresholds trigger a mandatory minimum of five years based on the quantity of drugs involved:
- 100 grams or more of heroin
- 500 grams or more of cocaine
- 10 grams or more of methamphetamine (if the quantity is over 200 grams, the mandatory minimum sentence is ten years)
- 250 grams of crack cocaine
The following thresholds trigger a mandatory minimum of twenty years:
- 1 kilogram of heroin
- 5 kilograms of cocaine
- 100 kilograms or more of marijuana
- 100 grams of methamphetamine
- 2.5 kilograms of crack cocaine
The mandatory minimum sentences in these cases can also be increased if a person was a leader of the offense or the offense was part of a “continuing criminal enterprise” that made certain amounts of money from illegal drug distribution.
Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Drug Charges in Virginia
While these mandatory minimum sentences are harsh, judges can sentence many individuals below the mandatory minimum sentence if the individual meets certain criteria, including:
- The person does not have a prior conviction for certain serious felonies including murder, sexual battery, or distributing illegal drugs
- The person did not use violence or threats of violence or possess a firearm in connection with the offense
- The offense did not result in death or serious injury to a person
- The person was not an organizer, leader, or manager in the offense and was not “engaged in a continuing criminal enterprise”
- The person has truthfully provided the State with all of the information or evidence the person has regarding the offense
There are also lesser penalties if a person distributed illegal drugs to another person without any intent to profit or make the person addicted to their drugs. Additionally, there may be lesser charges available if the person is a physician and dispensed drugs without a written prescription, as long as there is a legitimate medical need for the drugs.
Defenses to Drug Charges in Virginia
There are several defenses one can raise if charged with serious drug offenses. Generally, there is either a traffic stop or search warrant that led police officers to find the alleged drugs. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can file motions to keep the drugs out of evidence if police did not follow the proper procedures for search and seizures in violation of a person’s constitutional rights.
The fact that these mandatory minimum sentencing laws are changing can also give an experienced criminal lawyer leverage to negotiate a better plea deal. Of course, many individuals will also have strong defenses at trial if the prosecution cannot prove they possessed the drugs in question or that the drugs were for distribution and not personal use.
Need a top criminal lawyer in Virginia for a serious drug charge? Contact us now for help.
Our criminal defense lawyers in Virginia understand drug laws and how best to challenge serious drug charges. We have helped dozens of people successfully resolve drug charges in Virginia with pretrial dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and reasonable plea deals.
If you or someone you know is facing a drug charge in Virginia, contact us now for immediate help.