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When the police arrest someone for drug possession, there is more than one charge they may face. In this blog, we will look at these charges, primarily possession with intent to distribute vs. simple possession. Each of these offenses, defined under 35 PA. Stat. § 780-113, is charged and graded differently. For the person facing the charge, these cases differ primarily on their burden of proof, severity, and possible penalties.
Determining which of these charges you may face after a drug possession arrest could depend on:
- What drug was found
- How much of the drug you possessed
- How much cash you had with you and whether you have a compelling explanation for why you had that amount
- If you have a history of related arrests and convictions
- Your apparent intent, either for personal use or with intent to distribute
Understanding How Pennsylvania Defines Simple Possession
Simple possession is the easiest to prove of these charges for prosecutors and comes with the most lenient penalties. Under the law that defines this crime, the person facing charges:
- Knowingly possessed the drug
- Did not have a license, prescription, or other approval to possess the drug
- Had the drugs for personal use
At its most basic, a person had an illegal drug on their person or under their control. This is the charge you might face if the police searched your car and found a small amount of cocaine or a few prescription pills not prescribed to you. This law assumes that drugs are intended for the individual’s use unless there is other evidence to support their sale or other distribution.
The penalties for a conviction in a simple possession case include:
- Up to a year in jail or prison
- A fine of up to $5,000
- Both incarceration and fines
- Significantly increased consequences for a second conviction, including three years behind bars and a $25,000 fine
It is also important to note that these penalties may not apply if the individual possessed a small amount of marijuana. While this is still illegal in Pennsylvania, the penalties are reduced. Marijuana possession is still illegal in Philadelphia, law enforcement just declines to prosecute in almost every instance.
For a free legal consultation, call 215.515.3360
Understanding “Possession with Intent to Distribute” in Pennsylvania
Possession with intent to distribute is a much more significant charge in Pennsylvania. A person found with drugs on them could face this charge if:
- They possessed a large amount of substances unlikely for personal use.
- They had packaging materials, or the drugs were in smaller packages.
- They have excessive drug paraphernalia—more than one person would need.
- They had scales or other tools.
- They had a large amount of cash– proceeds from sales or to “make change”.
- There is evidence, such as ledgers or call logs, of communication with customers.
It does not matter if there is actual proof they have sold controlled substances in the past or will sell these drugs. The “intent” is key.
Possession with intent to distribute is always charged as a felony offense. However, it is an ungraded felony. The severity of the penalties, if convicted, will depend greatly on a number of factors specific to the case. These factors include:
- The drugs involved
- How much of the drug the defendant possessed
- Any previous related convictions
- The circumstances of the arrest
- Other related factors, such as if a firearm or child was present
A conviction of this charge usually calls for imprisonment, although it is difficult to determine how long without assessing the facts of the case. The judge will likely consider:
- The defendant’s criminal history
- The quantity of drugs
- The current state of the world, ex. the “opioid pandemic”
- The strength of the defense’s argument
- The evidence against the defendant
In general, this could mean between one or five years behind bars. A second arrest could call for up to eight years in jail or prison. The fines for intent to distribute are also significantly larger than in most simple possession cases.
Understanding Drug Court
Those charged with possession – and in some cases, possession with intent to distribute – may enter the drug treatment court system if the court deems that drug addiction fueled their crime.
In these cases, the judge works with the defense team, prosecutor, probation officers, and law enforcement to support and enforce the defendant’s recovery.
Such a solution can help end the cycle of addiction and incarceration that’s so common across the country. It can help you avoid criminal prosecution if you comply, but all charges will be reinstated for those who don’t abide by the program.
Building a Defense for Your Drug Possession Case
As you can see, facing simple possession charges usually offers a much better outcome than possession with intent to distribute. If you cannot prove that you did not possess the illegal drugs as accused, you may want to focus on reducing the charges against you to simple possession.
Alternatively, Pennsylvania offers an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program that allows some people facing simple possession charges to avoid going to court for their crimes. Instead, they can enter into a pretrial rehabilitative program, meet the requirements of that program, complete community service and probation, and apply to have their charges expunged. There may also be other pretrial diversionary programs available.
A good option is to work closely with a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with drug laws in Pennsylvania. They will fight to help you get the most favorable outcome possible based on the facts of your case, and the evidence prosecutors have against you.
Get Your Free Consultation from Our Team Today
At the Law Offices of M.J. Snyder, LLC, our Pennsylvania criminal defense team handles drug possession cases every day. We can assess your charges and help you understand the possible outcomes of your case, including discussing diversionary programs and the benefits of ARD.
Connect with our team today for a free consultation. We are here to help during this stressful and difficult time.