Being arrested on drug charges can be a daunting, frightening, stressful experience. It also puts you in a position to face a very wide range of potential outcomes depending on the state in question, the type of drugs, the quantity found by the arresting officer, and numerous other factors. Determining the potential outcome of such a case is actually a very complicated matter.
IS JAIL TIME GUARANTEED?
While many drug offenders, including first-time offenses, will face jail time, that is not the case for everyone facing drug charges. There are many mitigating factors that must be accounted for. Working with an experienced criminal defense attorney can help ensure the most favorable outcome, although there are no guarantees that jail time will not be included in the sentence handed down.
FACTORS THAT MAKE JAIL TIMELESS LIKELY
It’s important to understand there is no way to determine how a judge will rule, particularly in regard to drug charges. However, there are some things that will make jail timeless likely as part of a sentence. These include the following:
- The State in Question – A great deal hinges on the state in question. For instance, Kentucky has some of the strictest drug laws in the country. A first-time offender could face between two and 10 years in prison. In comparison, those arrested on drug charges in California may face nothing more than a fine and/or 15 days in jail depending on other mitigating factors in the case.
- Less Serious Drugs – One factor that will work in your favor is if you were arrested for possessing less serious drugs. For instance, marijuana is considered less serious than something like meth or heroin. Depending on the state where you’re arrested, simple possession of a single gram of meth could carry a jail sentence of up to two years even for your first offense. Each drug has its own guidelines, so this will play a significant role in whether you face jail time or not.
- Small Amounts – The number of drugs in your possession during the arrest will also play a role in your sentence. If you were found with only a very small amount, perhaps nothing more than drug residue, there is less risk of facing jail time. Large amounts, on the other hand, put you at risk for charges of not just possession, but with the intent to distribute, which could mean facing no jail time, but a prison sentence for breaking federal law.
THE QUESTION OF MARIJUANA
Marijuana is perhaps the single most widely used drug in the United States. It was at one time illegal in all 50 states, but that has changed a great deal in recent years. Some states, such as Florida, have made it legal for medical use. Other states, such as Colorado and California, have made it legal for medical and recreational use. Other states, such as Texas, have not decriminalized it at all, although possession of small amounts without the intent to distribute and no mitigating circumstances (such as driving under the influence) are often ignored by police and the courts.
So, again, the state in which you’re charged will play a significant role here. If you live in a state with liberal marijuana laws, you may not face criminal charges at all, much less jail time. However, in states with stricter laws, you could still face jail time for possession of even a small amount of marijuana.
THE POSSIBILITY OF PROBATION
If this is your first drug-related offense, there is the chance that the judge will offer you a special type of probation program. This allows you to avoid going to jail, but it does require that you comply with some pretty stringent requirements. Sometimes called 410 programs, these probationary periods require you to adhere to the following:
- Avoid breaking any other law during the probationary period, including laws not related to drug use or possession
- Avoid possession of any type of weapon, including firearms
- Complete at least three drug tests during the probationary period (often random)
- Complete a minimum of 30 hours of community service during the probationary period
- Agree to a probationary period of at least 24 months
Note that these are some of the more common requirements. The judge in your case may mandate additional requirements or have fewer requirements. There is also no guarantee that the judge will offer a probationary period even if this is your first offense. An experienced criminal defense attorney can argue for probation on your behalf, though.
If you are arrested in a state that has specially designated drug courts, there may be additional factors that affect your sentencing. These courts are designed to alleviate the burden on overpopulated prisons by focusing on getting drug offenders rehabilitation, rather than incarceration.
In this instance, you agree to go to a drug court rather than a regular court and then spend up to 15 months in treatment sessions, along with randomized drug tests, and appearing before the judge regularly to discuss your case. A failed test, or failure to appear before the judge usually results in jail time, though.
In addition to drug charges, other factors will influence the judge’s decision. For instance, if you have a lengthy criminal record, the judge is less likely to be lenient. If you were arrested with drugs within proximity to a school, there is less chance of a light sentence. There are numerous other mitigating factors that can increase (or decrease) the severity of the sentence you face.
How to Move Forward
If you have been arrested on drug charges, it is vital that you contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Even first-time drug offenses can carry jail time and you cannot count on the court being lenient. An experienced attorney can fight to protect your fights and help to ensure the most positive outcome, including possibly having your charges dismissed, reduced, or allowing you to be placed within a probation program.