Over the past decade, illegal drug use has increased significantly all over the country, and Prince William County is no exception. According to a recent report, overdose deaths in Prince William County shot up from 65 in 2019 to 101 in 2020—an increase of more than 50%. As a result, police are constantly looking to get illegal drugs off the street. However, with aggressive policing comes a variety of other problems. For example, police may be overly eager to search someone they suspect of committing a drug crime and violate their rights in the process. At the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone, our Prince William County drug crimes attorney aggressively represents clients charged with possessing, distributing, and manufacturing controlled substances.
Virginia Drug Classifications
In addition to federal laws prohibiting the possession of certain drugs, every state is responsible for creating its own drug laws. Similar to federal law, Virginia law classifies all controlled substances into five categories or “schedules.”
Schedule I Substances
These substances have a high potential for abuse and no valid medical use. Examples of Schedule I substances include heroin and LSD.
Schedule II Substances
These substances have a high potential for abuse and present a serious risk of dependence; however, they also have accepted medical uses. Examples of Schedule II substances include cocaine, crack, methadone, and methamphetamine.
Schedule III Substances
These substances have a lower potential for abuse than those in Schedule II but still present a moderate risk of dependence. Schedule III substances also have various medical uses. Examples of Schedule III substances include codeine and anabolic steroids.
Schedule IV Substances
These substances have a lower potential for abuse than those in Schedule III but still present some risk of dependence. Schedule IV substances are also generally accepted in medical treatment. Examples of Schedule IV substances include Xanax, Valium, and certain tranquilizers and sedatives.
Schedule V Substances
These substances are those which are not generally considered drugs but are still used for recreational purposes and have the potential for abuse. An example of a Schedule V substance is nitrous oxide.
Regardless of which substance the government accuses you of possessing, it is essential that you have an experienced Prince William County drug crimes attorney on your side.
Types of Prince William Drug Crimes
In Virginia, there are several broad categories of drug offenses.
Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance
The Code of Virginia § 18.2-250 criminalizes the possession of illegal narcotics, more commonly referred to as drug possession. So if prosecutors believe that you illegally possessed narcotics—whether that narcotic is always illegal or if it’s legal only with a prescription that you do not possess—they can bring criminal charges against you. This is often referred to as “simple possession” because evidence indicates that you only had the drugs for personal use. Simple possession is the least serious drug charge; however, a conviction is still very serious and often results in jail time, especially for those with prior drug convictions.
Manufacturing or Distributing a Controlled Substance
The Code of Virginia § 18.2-248 criminalizes the manufacturing or distribution of controlled substances. Prosecutors bring drug manufacturing or drug distribution charges when they believe someone made drugs themselves (e.g., making meth in a meth lab in your home) or possessed drugs with the intention of selling them. It is also a crime to give away drugs, even if you do not receive anything of value in exchange.
Drug Possession with Intent to Distribute
Section 18.2-248 also makes it a crime to possess drugs with the intent to distribute them. Importantly, when proceeding with possession with intent to deliver charges, police officers do not need to witness an actual sale to arrest you for drug distribution or drug possession with intent to distribute. Instead, they can rely on circumstantial evidence that you intended to sell the drugs based on the surrounding circumstances. For example, the following facts may be used by the government to try and turn a drug possession case into a drug distribution case:
- You possessed a large number of drugs that were inconsistent with personal use;
- You possessed scales, empty baggies, or other drug-selling paraphernalia;
- You were arrested with a large number of small bills in your possession; or
- You made a statement to the police indicating you were selling drugs.
Of course, there may also be innocent explanations for each of these facts. An experienced Prince William County drug crimes lawyer can help defend your freedom by creating a compelling defense that you did not possess the narcotics for sale.
Conspiracy to Engage in Drug Distribution or Drug Manufacturing
Prosecutors frequently add conspiracy charges to any case involving more than one person who they believe engaged in the sale of drugs. Under Virginia Code § 18.2-256, “Any person who conspires to commit any offense . . . is punishable by imprisonment or fine or both which may not be less than the minimum punishment nor exceed the maximum punishment prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.”
What this means is that anyone who participates in a drug-selling conspiracy, regardless of their role, can be charged the same as the person who actually sold the drugs. This allows prosecutors to bring charges against both high- and low-level participants, usually in hopes of getting the less involved parties to testify against the higher-ups. For example, police may arrest street-level drug dealers in hopes of getting them to “flip” on their bosses in exchange for immunity or a plea agreement to a less serious offense.
However, defending against conspiracy drug charges is possible by minimizing your role in the drug-selling operation. This is usually done by illustrating that you didn’t have full knowledge of the operation and that your actions were not knowingly furthering the conspiracy.
Drug possession, drug possession with intent to distribute, and conspiracy are all serious crimes. If a judge or jury finds you guilty of any of these, the conviction will stay on your record for life. That said, allegations of manufacturing or distributing drugs are generally much more serious. However, there are defenses to Prince William drug charges that can result in the charges being withdrawn or a not guilty verdict. Perhaps the most common defense involves challenging the police officer’s actions leading up to the discovery of the drugs. If your Prince William County drug crimes attorney can show that the police violated your constitutional rights leading up to the search or arrest, any evidence recovered cannot be admitted at trial. And, without the drugs as evidence, prosecutors often have little, if anything, left to use against you.
Penalties for a Drug Crime Conviction in Prince William County
Virginia drug laws are especially harsh. In terms of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, the seriousness of the offense depends on which schedule the drug belongs to. For example, possession of a Schedule I substance carries a prison sentence of 1-10 years or a jail sentence of up to 12 months. The court may also assess a fine of up to $2,500.
For manufacturing or distributing a controlled substance, it again depends on the type of drug. Manufacturing or distributing a Schedule I or II drugs is a felony offense. If convicted, you face a sentence of up to 40 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. For Schedule III, IV, and V substances, manufacturing or delivering can be a Class 5 or Class 6 felony or a Class 1 misdemeanor, depending on the situation.
In many drug cases, there is a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment that the judge must sentence you to. For example, anyone who manufactures, sells, gives, distributes, or possesses with the intent to manufacture, sell, give, or distribute the following drugs faces a mandatory sentence of five years to life, with the requirement the defendant serve at least five years:
- 100 grams of heroin,
- 500 grams of crack,
- 500 grams of cocaine, or
- 10 grams of methamphetamine.
There is also a specific law pertaining to the manufacture of methamphetamine, which requires anyone convicted to receive a sentence of 10 years to life, plus a fine of up to $500,000.
Aggressive Drug Charge Defense in Prince William County
If you face drug charges in Prince William County, it is important that you take your circumstances seriously. A conviction for a drug offense can alter the course of your life, even if it’s a first-time offense. At the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone, we can help you defend your case and your freedom. With over a decade of experience representing clients facing all types of Virginia drug crimes, Prince William County Drug Crimes Lawyer Pignone knows what it takes to defend against even the toughest cases.
To learn more about how we can help you fight your Prince William County drug case, give the Law Offices of Michael A. Pignone a call. You can also reach us through our online contact form.