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OVERVIEW OF PA DRUG OFFENSES
Lampman Law represents individuals charged with drug crimes in Northeastern and Central Pennsylvania courts. We also defend federal drug prosecutions; however, this article focuses on drug crimes prosecuted by County District Attorneys and the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.
In Pennsylvania, drug crimes range from low level misdemeanor offense to felonies of the first degree. Lampman Law consistently represents people accused of possession of a small amount of marihuana, possession of a controlled substance, and of possession of drug paraphernalia. We understand that even though misdemeanor drug offenses do not have the gravity and/or severe penalties associated with felony drug crimes—any drug charge (even possession of small amount of marihuana) can have a devastating long-term impact on an individual’s criminal record, employment opportunities, and reputation.
The chart below links to specific misdemeanor and felony drug offenses. Each offense is outlined in detail and discussed separately. The chart also links to elements that enhancement the penalties to drug crimes and to felony charges that are not drug specific offenses but are often charged in drug prosecutions.
Lampman Law also defends individuals alleged to have been active participants, and even the kingpin of major: cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine drug trafficking rings. In fact, we have represented clients charged with Possession with Intent to Deliver (PWID) over: 500 grams of cocaine (trafficking case); 480 grams of methamphetamine (home search); and, over 350 grams of heroin (apartment search). We understand the high stakes involved in felony drug cases. We understand that the impact of a felony drug conviction is life altering.
More Importantly, we understand how to defend drug cases—we prepare to attack and to win. Lampman Law is always ready and willing to fight and will perform a full investigation of all cases we handle before offering our advice concerning a case’s resolution. In short, we insist on reviewing all the evidence before concluding on the strength or weakness of a case. It is equally important, however, that we always offer direct and honest advice to our clients. If, after reviewing all the evidence, we determine that a case is unlikely to succeed we timely advise our clients of our opinion and fully explain our reasoning in detail.
Lampman Law often resolves drug charges without jail time. In fact, in certain cases, drug charges can be resolved without a probationary sentence or a license suspension. We regularly defend clients charged with PWID where the felony charges are dropped, dismissed, or substantially reduced. For example, a few years ago, Lampman Law resolved a case involving the possession of six (6) pounds of marihuana with a probationary sentence after arguing that the accused was transporting the drug from Colorado to Connecticut for personal use. In another case, Lampman Law represented a client charged with PWID of 169 grams of crack cocaine (traffic stop) and after filing motions, the entire case was dismissed. Lampman Law also successfully defended a client charged with Drug Delivery (Heroin / Fentanyl) Resulting in Death.
Pennsylvania’s Drug Laws are Complex
Pennsylvania's Drug Laws are complicated. In fact, PA’s drug act is a very long, convoluted, and is a frustrating statute even for experienced lawyers. Determining the proper sentence and penalties in drug cases is likewise complex. The basic penalty for a drug offense is determined by three factors: (1) the type of drug; (2) the weight charged; and, the accused’s prior record score. The legal complexity of our drug laws, along with the severity of the penalties, highlight the importance of hiring an experienced criminal defense lawyer with experience in defending drug charges in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Defending Drug Cases
Defending drug cases in Pennsylvania is complex litigation and presents several specific challenges. Because drug cases regularly involve multiple alleged criminal incidents (drug sales), controlled buys, confidential informants, photographs, audio and video recordings, and multiple defendants, it is essential to closely review and analyze all the facts. Like any other criminal case, however, challenges to the factual allegations and the Commonwealth’s ability to prove the elements of the case beyond a reasonable doubt are the foundation to any good defense.
Challenging identify, mere presence, actual and constructive possession, and intent (personal use vs. intent to sell), are all viable defenses to drug charges provided they are supported by the facts. As noted above, challenging the legality of a stop and/or search are often relevant defenses in drug prosecutions. Of course, it is always important to identify: (1) the narcotic in question; (2) the weight of the narcotic at issue; and, (3) to challenge, or negotiate, the amount of the weight charged.
It is essential for any lawyer defending a drug case to deeply understand United States and Pennsylvania Constitutional Law. Particularly, the law concerning personal searches, vehicle searches, search warrants, seizures, and when relevant, Pennsylvania’s Wire Tap Law. When defending drug charges, it is important to purse all avenues of defense, including: filing suppression motions (illegal vehicle stops, searches, wire taps, coerced consents), challenge the weight of the drug, arguing personal use if applicable, and to negotiate a favorable plea when trial is not a viable option.
Drug Offense Diversionary Programs
Probation Without Verdict (PWOV), often called Section 117 (35 Pa.C.S. § 780-117), is an excellent tool to dispose of drug charges. It is typically used for misdemeanor drug offenses. A court may place an offender who pleads no contest or guilty to a drug crime into PWOV provided the offender proves they were drug dependent at the time of the offense. To prove drug dependency, the offender must produce testimony from a physician or psychologist trained in the felid of drug abuse. PWOV is a consisting of a term of probation not longer than the maximum penalty of the offense and the supervision focuses on sobriety.
The benefit of PWOV is that upon successful completion of the probationary term, the charges are dismissed, and the offender can have the arrest record expunged.
To be eligible for PWOV the accused must:
Prove their drug dependency with qualified testimony;
Not be charged with PWID;
Not have any prior drug offense conviction;
Not have any misdemeanor or felony conviction;
Not previously participated in ARD for any misdemeanor or felony offense;
Not have been a dangerous juvenile offender or adjudicated delinquent of PWID.
Furthermore, despite being statutorily authorized, PWOV is not an available option in some counties because some courts will not agree to order it.
ARD is a pre-trial diversionary program controlled by a counties District Attorney and approved by a court. In other words, the District Attorney determines ARD eligibility. The court grants ARD if it finds that the accused is an appropriate candidate. ARD does not require an admission of guilt and it does not result in a conviction. It consists of a term of probation that, if successfully completed, results in the charges being dismissed. Upon dismissal, the arrest and court record are eligible for expungement.
ARD is often available to resolve misdemeanor drug offenses. However, some counties exclude all drug charges from ARD consideration.
Drug Treatment Court Programs
Many Counties have Drug Treatment Court Programs. The eligibility requirements, terms, conditions, and scope of the reward of these programs vary by county. Nevertheless, these programs are designed to help drug dependent offenders achieve sober living while resolving a criminal prosecution.
While Drug Treatment Court should always be considered and discussed as an option to resolve cases that are not right for trial, they are not an easy alternative to jail. In short, Drug Court Programs are long-term (typically 2 years), require frequent court appearances (weekly), and close court ordered (probation) supervision. The often require some term of incarceration and/or inpatient treatment. Obviously, they include frequent random drug testing.
Drug Offense Sentencing Alternatives
County Intermediate Punishment
County Intermediate Punishment (CIP) permits a court to use sentencing alternatives such as house arrest with electronic monitoring, work release, and day reporting programs as an alternative to traditional county incarceration.
State Intermediate Punishment
Low level drug dependent offenders facing a state prison sentence may seek a State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) sentence. The SIP program was created for offenders convicted of drug and drug-motivated offenses. SIP offers offenders an individualized treatment plan.
To be eligible, the prosecutor and the court must recommend the offender for the program. The Department of Corrections then evaluated the offender to see if they need treatment and would be appropriate for the program.
SIP is a flat 24 months sentence. A minimum of seven (7) months are served in a state correctional facility. Four (4) months must be served in an inpatient therapeutic community at SCI Quehanna, at least two (2) months in a community-based therapeutic community, and six (6) months in outpatient treatment. The remainder of the term is served on supervised reintegration into the community and state supervision based upon the offender’s needs and progress.
The Recidivism Risk Reduction Incentive (RRRI) is a program available to non-violent offenders facing a term of state incarceration. It permits participants to reduce their minimum sentence by a percentage if they complete recommended programs and maintain good behavior while incarcerated.
State Motivational Boot Camp
A judge may sentence certain drug offenders to participate in Boot Camp. Participants must voluntarily agree to participate in the program and the DOC determines who is eligible and who participates.
It is a six-month traditional military-style boot camp. The boot camp program centers around treatment, education and work with a focus on self-discipline. Participates attend daily therapeutic groups to address drug and alcohol issues, anger and violence, domestic violence and criminal thinking.
Upon successfully completing Boot Camp, the offender is eligible for immediate release. The offender is then subject to intensive parole supervision.
To be eligible, an offender must be under 40 years old, be sentenced to at least 2 years but not more than a maximum of 5 years. The offender must not have any conviction to violent offenses or a drug trafficking offense.
Collateral Consequence of Drug Convictions
Like most crimes, there are consequences to a drug conviction beyond probation and/or jail time. A drug conviction results in a misdemeanor or felony criminal conviction that will remain on the offender's criminal history unless it becomes eligible for a limited access order or an expungement.
A drug conviction in Pennsylvania also increases the offender's prior record score (PRS). Depending on the conviction it may elevate the PRS and increase the individual's criminal liability for subsequent criminal convictions. This means that most prior drug convictions (all felony drug convictions) will directly increase the punishment for a later criminal prosecution.
A drug conviction may preclude participation in certain educational programs.
For example, nursing and medical programs may deny applicants with a drug conviction because the applicant may not receive clearance from a hospital to participate in clinical training.
A drug conviction (even a drug arrest) will likely result in some action from a professional license board. The offender’s license may be placed on a probationary status (the licensing board may compel participation in a drug treatment program while on probation), suspended, or revoked.
Gaining employment with any felony conviction is problematical. Drug convictions present additional issues due to employer’s concerns of continued or renewed drug use, drug theft, general theft, and the general stigma associated with any drug crime.
Any property used to further the drug trade is subject to forfeiture meaning that the Commonwealth can attempt to seize it from the convicted offender. This means that the use of a car to transport drugs or to make sales out of can result in the confiscation and loss of that car. Further, the Commonwealth can take any property through forfeiture provided they prove it was purchased with money earned by selling illegal narcotics.
Firearms Ownership Rights
Pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. 6105(c)(2), any person convicted of a drug offense that may be punishable by a term of imprisonment exceeding two (2) years is prohibited from possessing, using, manufacturing, controlling, selling, or transferring a firearm.
Therefore, anyone convicted of a felony drug offense may not lawfully possess a firearm. Likewise, anyone convicted of a second (2nd) offense simple possession (A16) is also prohibited from possessing a firearm.
Undocumented persons may be deported upon conviction of any drug offense. Depending on the facts and circumstances of the case, any non-citizen may face deportation upon conviction of a drug offense.
Call Today for a Free Consultation
If you or someone you love has been charged with a drug case in Pennsylvania call Lampman Law today at 570-371-3737 for free consultation.