Drug Charges - Marijuana and Controlled Substances
Information from Hensley Law Firm about drug charges, including marijuana and controlled substances, in North Carolina, including the law, potential consequences, and legal issues.
North Carolina closely regulates controlled substances through the North Carolina Controlled Substances Act, which defines six different categories of controlled substances (Schedule I through Schedule VI) and includes drugs such as morphine, oxycodone, codeine, cocaine, and marijuana. The Act also regulates possession of these substances, requiring a prescription to obtain many of these substances.
Possession of controlled substances and possession of drug paraphernalia (any item used to introduce illegal substances into the body) can be charged at misdemeanor levels, depending on the type and amount of the substance or paraphernalia. For certain substances or larger amounts of substances, law enforcement typically charge defendants with charges such as Possession with Intent to Manufacture/Sell/Distribute and Maintaining a Vehicle or Dwelling Place, as the situation may be, and these are usually charges as felonies.
Because the severity of drug charges varies widely, so does the realm of potential consequences associated with them. In the early 1990's, the North Carolina legislature adopted Structured Sentencing, described in the Citizen's Guide to Structured Sentencing as "the method of sentencing and punishing criminals in North Carolina. It classifies offenders on the basis of the severity of their crime and on the extent and gravity of their prior criminal record. Based on these two factors, structured sentencing provides judges with sentencing options for the type and length of sentences which may be imposed." Structured sentencing does not apply to implied-consent offenses and certain drug trafficking offenses. Because of the case-by-case approach that structured sentencing employs, the consequences for drug offenses range from fines to significant jail or prison time.
There is a specific sentencing scheme carved out for first-time drug offenses in the North Carolina General Statutes. N.C.G.S. 90-96 provides that a person who is charged with certain drug offenses, who has not been convicted of drug offenses or felonies in the past, may have their charges conditionally discharged. The court will place the defendant on probation and impose certain conditions, including a substance abuse assessment and typically some form of community service. If the defendant successfully pays the costs and fines, completes the conditions required by the court, and does not otherwise violate their probation, the charges are dismissed by the court at the end of the probationary period. However, if the defendant does not successfully complete all required components, the Court will go back and impose a sentence which can include jail time. N.C.G.S. 90-96 is designed to give first-time offenders an opportunity to learn from their mistakes without serious consequences.
There are a litany of issues that can arise in drug cases. Because most drug charges result from a search of your person, your car, or your home, it is possible for 4th Amendment rights to be violated during the search. The officer must have had a good reason to stop you and investigate. He must either have a warrant to perform a search or meet one of the few exceptions to needing a warrant to perform a search. He must advise you of your rights before detaining you and obtaining any confessions from you. Once your case is in court, the prosecution of your case must not be unreasonably delayed. These are all issues that can arise and impede on your constitutionally protected rights, and if law enforcement, investigators, or prosecution falter, then you may have a good defense in your drug case.
Why Hire an Attorney?
It is important to have a trained, experienced attorney analyze your case to determine if there are any defenses on constitutional grounds. Although rare, there are cases where the charges against a defendant are dismissed because his constitutional rights were not protected. In the majority of cases, you will need an attorney to prepare you for your court date, including preparing all paperwork and certifications. The N.C.G.S. 90-96 sentencing scheme requires presentation of pertinent information to the presiding judge, and regardless of whether your drug charge qualifies for N.C.G.S. 90-96 sentencing, you need a good defense attorney representing you to make sure the sentence imposed by the judge is the least severe sentence possible.
Have questions about NC drug charges or a possession citation? I am always happy to give free consultations and speak with you about your situation to assess your options.
Hensley Law Firm provides criminal defense representation in:
Mars Hill, Marshall, Hot Springs, and surrounding areas (Madison County)
Asheville, Weaverville, Leicester, Black Mountain, Swannanoa, and surrounding areas (Buncombe County)
Burnsville and surrounding areas (Yancey County)