If you’re charged with the possession or distribution of controlled substances in Virginia, you should take steps to protect yourself.
Under Virginia law, drug possession is a serious crime with major consequences. Even a first-time conviction for a small amount of a controlled substance can result in fines and jail time.
The penalties for drug distribution are even more extreme, often including years in prison.
Fortunately, a good lawyer can help you create a plan to fight both drug possession and drug distribution charges.
In this article, we’ll go over different strategies for fighting drug possession and distribution charges in Virginia.
What Are Virginia’s Drug Laws?
The large majority of criminal cases involving controlled substances in Virginia are related to either the possession or distribution of certain common drugs.
While there are additional rules and penalties for related crimes (such as the production of illegal substances), possession and distribution are by far the most commonly charged.
In Virginia, it is illegal to possess any amount of any controlled substance without a legal, valid prescription.
Further, the exact penalties for simple possession depend on the type of substance as well as whether or not it’s your first offense.
For example, heroin is a schedule 1 controlled substance in Virginia.
This means that an individual caught with any amount of heroin will be charged with a Class 5 felony.
This could mean up to $2,500 in fines and up to 10 years in jail, or in the discretion of the court, not more than 12 months.
On the other hand, the possession of schedule 3 controlled substances such as codein or xanax is considered a Class 1 misdemeanor in Virginia.
This crime is punishable by a sentence of up to 12 months in jail and fines of up to $2,500.
Keep in mind that the possession of marijuana has a separate system of penalties in Virginia, and generally counts as a minor civil infraction rather than a crime.
Possession with Intent to Distribute
Possession with intent to distribute is similar to simple possession.
However, these charges often come about when the police find evidence that you intended to sell or distribute the substance.
This can include anything from eyewitness testimony of a distribution operation to the way that the drugs were packaged.
In addition, if the police catch you with large amounts of a drug, that excessive quantity may also count as evidence of an intent to distribute.
The penalties for possession with intent to distribute can vary based on two factors: the substance and amount.
However, the penalties for distribution are always higher than those for simple possession, and can include years of prison time.
For this reason, many cases involving intent to distribute revolve around arguing the court down to simple possession charges.
Finally, keep in mind that “possession” doesn’t necessarily imply physical ownership in Virginia.
The state can also charge you with constructive possession based on the presence of certain corroborating evidence.
In practice, this means that other forms of evidence besides the actual presence of drugs on your person can lead to a possession charge.
For example, an officer will likely charge you with possession they find drugs in your car’s glove compartment. This is true even if the drugs aren’t actually yours.
Common Strategies for Fighting Drug Possession and Distribution Charges in Virginia
If you’re charged with the possession or distribution of drugs in Virginia, there are several defenses available to you.
Some of the most common strategies include entering a special drug court or Virginia’s First Offender Program, as well as arguing for dismissal or lower charges.
We’ll list some of the most effective strategies below. However, you should always speak with an attorney before your court date in order to plan a defense specific to your case.
Apply for Virginia’s First Offender Program
Like many states, Virginia uses a first offender program (sometimes called a “251 program”) to rehabilitate rather than punish first-time drug offenders.
You may be eligible for the first offender program if you’ve never entered into the program before and have not previously been charged with a drug offense.
However, the judge overseeing your case will need to give you permission to enter the program.
You will also have to plead guilty (or “no contest”) to the charges against you in the event that you don’t successfully complete the program, which may affect your immigration.
If you enter a 251 program, you can normally avoid the normal jail time for your offense. Instead, you will have to undergo a 6-12 month probation period.
During this time, the court will require you to remain drug and alcohol-free, and submit to regular testing.
You will also have to complete a 10-week ASAP program, as well as a certain amount of community service.
If you qualify and complete the conditions, a 251 program is a great option for first-time offenders.
You can avoid jail time, and have the case dismissed once you successfully complete the program.
However, remember that failing to complete the program could result in even harsher criminal penalties.
Ask About Drug Court
In some parts of Virginia, you may be able to have your case moved to a county- or city-specific drug court.
Drug courts are small, specialized court dockets that deal exclusively with drug-related cases.
They aim to provide offenders struggling with addiction with legal environments focused on recovery, rather than punishment.
Typically, this means regular court appearances over time rather than a fine and jail time.
While entering a drug court may require you to plead guilty, doing so can be better in the long term.
You should strongly consider asking your lawyer if there is a drug court in your area when planning your defense.
Look into Making a Plea Deal
Depending on the circumstances of your arrest, the state attorney might offer a lesser sentence in exchange for a guilty plea in your case.
Similarly, the state attorney may downgrade your charges as part of a plea deal.
Plea deals are especially important in low-level felony cases, where the charges can be converted into misdemeanors through plea negotiations.
In Virginia, plea deals are legally binding.
It is always in your best interests to understand a plea deal fully and review it in writing before agreeing to it.
Try to Get Your Case Dropped
In rare cases, you may be able to argue that the court should entirely drop your case.
This usually occurs due to constitutional mistakes made during your arrest.
For example, if the police arrested you without probable cause, you may be able to get the evidence against you thrown out.
However, this kind of argument can be risky, especially if the judge doesn’t agree with your interpretation of events.
As always, you should go over every aspect of your case with your lawyer before you ever set foot in the court room.
The most important part of fighting any kind of drug charge in Virginia is to contact a lawyer as soon as possible.
By getting in touch with an experienced Virginia criminal defense lawyer early, you can fight the charges against you on your own terms.