Fairfax Drug Crimes Attorney
Police officers in Fairfax are constantly on the lookout for anything that resembles a drug transaction. When police think they see a drug deal, they spring into action, arresting both the buyer and the seller. Regardless of which side of the transaction you are on, a conviction for a Fairfax drug crime can have a serious impact on your life. At the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone, we proudly represent clients charged with all types of drug crimes. Whether it’s your first arrest or you’ve been through the system before, our skilled Fairfax drug crimes attorney is immediately available to help you fight the case.
Types of Drug Charges in Virginia
There are several different types of drug charges in Virginia, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. Generally, the seriousness of a drug crime depends on the type and quantity of drugs that police claim you had possession of and whether the drugs were for personal use or sale. Often, prosecutors bring several charges based on a single arrest. Some of the most common drug charges in Fairfax include:
- Possession of marijuana;
- Possession of a controlled substance;
- Drug manufacturing;
- Drug distribution;
- Prescription drug fraud; and
- Conspiracy to commit a drug crime.
Regardless of the type of drug charges you face, the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone can help by working with you to develop a compelling defense. With our help, you may be able to beat the case altogether or plead to less serious charges.
Possession of a Controlled Substance in Virginia: An Overview
Police charge people with possession of a controlled substance whenever they find illegal drugs. However, a Fairfax drug crimes attorney can represent you against any level of drug charge, not just possession.
What Is a Controlled Substance?
First, you need to know what a controlled substance is. If the substance you possess is not considered a controlled substance, you cannot face charges for possession. Controlled substances include:
- LSD; and
Additionally, some prescription medications are considered controlled substances. If you possess these medications without a valid prescription, that is considered possession of a controlled substance.
Virginia separates controlled substances into six categories: Schedule I to Schedule VI. The schedule is linked to the potential for abuse and whether an acceptable medical use exists for the drug. Schedule I represents the most addictive level of drugs that do not have an acceptable medical use, like heroin and ecstasy.
What Does Possession Mean?
Virginia law recognizes two theories of possession. The most obvious theory of possession is actual possession. You have actual possession of your cell phone if it’s on your person or in your hand while you text.
The other theory of possession is constructive possession. Having constructive possession of an object means that you know where an item is located, and you have the intention to exercise dominion and control over it. You have constructive possession of your cellphone when it is on the charger in your bedroom, and you’re in the kitchen.
There are a couple of additional points you should understand about the legal theory of possession. The first is that possession can be temporary and does not have to be permanent. Secondly, possession does not have to be exclusive. More than one person could have possession of an item at the same time.
Difference between possession and ownership
It’s important to differentiate between possession and ownership. They are not the same. The prosecutor does not have to prove you owned the drugs to prove you possessed the drugs. Many people try to distance themselves from drugs by telling the police that the drugs aren’t theirs. The police aren’t interested in ownership—all they need to do is find evidence of possession.
Ownership means having legal title to something, like owning a house or a car. When you own something, you hold exclusive rights to the item against another claim of ownership. Possession, on the other hand, simply means you have the ability and intent to control something. Thus, you own your car, but you can let your buddy borrow it. Your buddy has possession of your car while he’s driving it, even though you still own it.
How Do the Prosecutor Prove Possession of Drugs?
The prosecution must prove that you were aware of the presence and character of the controlled substance and consciously possessed or exercised control over it. While this might sound easy to prove, it can create several issues for the prosecution, depending on the circumstances. For example, ownership or occupancy of a space where a controlled substance was found does not automatically mean you are guilty of possession.
Additionally, if law enforcement officers locate a controlled substance in the backseat of your vehicle, the prosecution cannot automatically assume the substance belonged to you just because you own the vehicle.
Direct and circumstantial evidence
The police look for direct and circumstantial evidence to prove possession of narcotics. Personal observations form the basis of direct evidence. A police officer removing a bag of cocaine from your pocket during a pat-down frisk is direct evidence of drug possession. Admitting to police that you have drugs in your bedroom when they execute a search warrant in your house is also direct evidence of possession.
Circumstantial evidence relies on logical conclusions or inferences as proof. The strength of the conclusions determines the weight of the evidence. An example might help clarify the difference between direct and circumstantial evidence.
Example of circumstantial evidence
Suppose the police pull you over for speeding, and you are the only person in the car. The officer who pulls you over notices a clear plastic bag with white powder in it sitting on your backseat. The officer seizes the evidence and presses charges against you for drug possession. The officer wants more evidence to connect you to the drugs and learns you own the car and the insurance is in your name.
Even though the officer did not find the drugs on you or see you throw them in the backseat, a jury could convict you of drug possession based on circumstantial evidence because:
- You were alone in the car,
- You own and insure the car,
- The bag of drugs was in plain sight, and
- The drugs were within arm’s reach of you when sitting in the driver’s seat.
That’s a strong drug possession case. However, the situation changes if there are four people in the car. The inference that you, as the driver, possessed drugs found in the backseat between two other people is not nearly as strong even though you own the car.
If the State has charged you with possession of a controlled substance, you should contact a Fairfax drug offense lawyer right away. Depending on the facts, a Fairfax drug crimes attorney might have grounds to have your charges reduced or dismissed entirely.
Penalties for Drug Crimes in Virginia
The penalties for various drug crimes depend on several factors, such as:
- The schedule of the drug you allegedly possessed;
- The quantity of the substance;
- Where the crime took place; and
- What you planned to do with the substance.
Any drug conviction can negatively impact your reputation as well as your freedom. The criminal penalty imposed depends on the level drug crime penalties.
Simple possession is the most common drug crime in most jurisdictions. Simple possession carries the lowest level of drug crime penalties.
- For drugs that qualify as Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substances, a possession conviction is a Class 5 felony. A Class 5 felony carries the potential of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.
- For Schedule III drugs, possession is a Class 1 misdemeanor. A Class 1 misdemeanor carries the potential of up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
- For Schedule IV drugs, a possession conviction is a Class 2 misdemeanor. A Class 2 misdemeanor carries the potential of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- For Schedule V drugs, a possession conviction is a Class 3 misdemeanor. A Class 3 misdemeanor is penalized with a fine of up to $500.
- For Schedule VI drugs, possession is a Class 4 misdemeanor. A Class 4 misdemeanor carries a fine of up to $250.
If you have any questions about penalties for drug possession in Virginia, contact a Fairfax drug offense lawyer today.
Possession With Intent to Sell
If law enforcement finds evidence that indicates you were going to sell the controlled substance, you can face significantly higher penalties. Evidence that might make officers believe you intended to sell the substance includes:
- Packaging materials;
- A ledger;
- Large amounts of cash;
- Absence of drug paraphernalia for personal use; and
- Witness testimony.
The police will look for similar evidence when investigating drug manufacturing. However, with drug manufacturing, the police will look for presses, chemicals, and other indicators that someone is making drugs.
Distribution of drugs is the act of selling, giving, or transferring drugs to another person. Distribution is hard for police to detect. However, trained drug investigators will look for evidence of distribution such as hand-to-hand transactions on a street corner, or watching people take a “ride to nowhere.” Police know that drug dealers and purchasers often go on short car rides to transact their business.
Possession with intent to distribute could result in up to 40 years in prison if the narcotic found was a Schedule I or II drug. If the narcotic was a Schedule III drug, the penalty for possession with intent to distribute is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Your potential penalty will be at least five years but could go up to life if you have a prior conviction. Additionally, your potential prison sentence increases dramatically if you possess certain amounts or types of drugs.
Hiring a Fairfax drug crimes attorney gives you the best chance of getting your charges reduced. Contact our office today to discuss your case.
Did You Know that You Can Face Drug Charges Even Though the Police Did Not Charge You with Possession?
Conspiracy to violate any provision of Article 1 of Title 18.2 or the Drug Control Act is a crime. According to Code of Virginia § 18.2-256, a person who conspires with another to violate drug laws can get the same punishment as the principal actor. In other words, conspiring with another person to distribute cocaine subjects you to the same penalty as if you were caught directly distributing cocaine.
Conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime, and the unlawful agreement itself is the crime. That means the police do not have to catch you with drugs to charge you with conspiracy.
Conspiracy charges could arise if the police have you on a wiretap ordering drugs or discussing selling drugs with another person. As with possession, the police can use circumstantial evidence to prove a conspiracy in addition to collecting direct evidence.
Why Hire a Fairfax Drug Crimes Attorney?
At first glance, it may seem like a drug case is pretty straightforward: you either had the drugs on you or you didn’t. However, that’s a prosecutor’s mentality. From a defense perspective, drug cases should be complex because there are a lot of moving parts. An experienced drug lawyer can review the facts of your case and discuss all the possible defenses with you.
Motion to Suppress
For example, one of the most common defenses to drug charges is a motion to suppress. A motion to suppress involves challenging the evidence police officers obtained leading up to or after your arrest. Law enforcement officers cannot stop someone on the street for no reason—they need either probable cause or reasonable suspicion. If an officer cannot point to facts that justify a pedestrian or traffic stop, any evidence they recover as a result of the stop is inadmissible at trial. In a drug case, a successful motion to suppress often means the prosecution is left without any evidence to prove their case. However, it takes a skilled lawyer to understand the complex principles of search and seizure law.
Even if potentially harmful evidence comes into trial, an experienced lawyer may still be able to argue that you did not “possess” the drugs. Possession is another topic that isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. In many Fairfax drug cases, narcotics are recovered from a car, a home, a backpack, or in a stash location. It’s then up to the police officers to connect you to the drugs. However, just because police attribute drugs to you doesn’t mean that they were yours. A drug crimes attorney can challenge the government’s claim that you had knowledge of or exercised control over the drugs.
Negotiating an Advantageous Plea Deal
A drug attorney can also help in the event of an unavoidable conviction. For example, your attorney may be able to negotiate a favorable plea agreement with prosecutors to avoid trial or by arguing in favor of a reduced sentence to the judge after a judge or jury trial.
Facing drug charges can feel overwhelming, as there is a lot at stake. However, with our experienced Fairfax drug crimes lawyer by your side, you can rest assured that you, your case, and your future are in good hands.
Contact the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone to Speak with a Fairfax Drug Crimes Attorney About Your Case
If you face drug charges in Fairfax, it is important you work with a lawyer who will take your case as seriously as you do. At the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone, our Fairfax criminal charges defense lawyer is dedicated to aggressively advocating on behalf of each of his clients. For more than a decade, Attorney Michael Pignone has represented clients facing drug possession and drug distribution cases. We’ve helped countless clients get out from under serious drug charges, often avoiding a conviction altogether.
To learn more and schedule a free consultation to speak with a Fairfax drug crimes lawyer about your case, give us a call today. You can also reach us through our online contact form.