Defending Against Drug Possession Charges

Controlled substances are heavily penalized in Washington, and a wrongful possession charge could result in years of jail time and heavy fines. In this blog, we review the basics of the state’s drug possession laws and potential defense strategies that could mitigate your penalties and argue for lighter, alternative sentencing.

Controlled Substances and Marijuana Laws

Most non-cannabis drug possession charges are considered felonies in Washington. The state’s law identifies controlled substances as including:

  • heroin,
  • oxycodone,
  • methamphetamine,
  • oxycontin, and
  • cocaine.

Note that although the state allows for the legal use of marijuana both medically and recreationally, there are still punishable limits. For example, possession of more than 1 ounce, possession if you are under 21 years of age, and sale of marijuana are illegal under most circumstances. Smoking in public is technically illegal, too, and you could face serious misdemeanor or felony charges for these activities.

Penalties and Sentencing

The specific sentencing one might receive for drug possession charges will depend on the exact details of the case and factors including the type of drug involved and the criminal history of the defendant. Some facts about your case that will be taken into consideration are:

  • What drugs were involved and in what quantity?
  • Were the drugs intended for sale or for personal consumption?
  • What is the defendant’s prior criminal record?
  • Was a weapon involved or in the defendant’s possession?
  • Is the defendant a juvenile or an adult?
  • Was a juvenile involved in the crime?

Possession of any controlled substance is charged as a Class C felony and punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000, as is possession of more than 40 grams of marijuana.

Note that if a defendant has a strong defense that mitigates their criminality based on the above circumstances, such as no prior convictions, the court may order an alternative sentencing that will waive the standard sentence range. Instead of prison time and fines, they might instead impose one that consists of either a prison-based alternative or a residential chemical dependency treatment-based alternative.

For instance, Washington offers diversion programs, First Time Offender Waivers, and a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA), which is a post-sentencing program that can reduce incarceration time by up to 50%. DOSA converts remaining jail time to Community Supervision and outpatient treatment monitoring so that the second half of the sentence can be spent out of custody.

The court may also require the defendant to attend treatment or serve probation. In exchange for compliance, the defendant could get their charges dismissed or at least avoid some jail time. Alternative sentencing stresses treatment and counseling over punishment and incarceration.

Defense Options

There are a few different defense tactics to fight a drug possession charge. Some common defenses a drug possession attorney might argue are:

  • entrapment;
  • Fourth Amendment violations;
  • drugs didn't belong to the defendant;
  • unwitting possession (didn't know the drug was in their possession or didn't the know nature of the substance);
  • illegal search to discover the drugs;
  • the defendant was legally entitled to have the drugs;
  • the drugs belonged to another person or persons.

Note that Washington makes a distinction between constructive possession and actual possession. While actual possession refers to illegal drugs being found on your person, constructive possession refers to illegal drugs being found not on your person, but at your home or in your vehicle, your locker or desk at your workplace, or your rental storage space.

You may have a strong defense if you argue a case of constructive possession, because they can be tough to prove in some circumstances, and they can often fall under the defense of unknowing possession. For instance, if you share a three-bedroom rental residence with two other people, you did not have exclusive, personal control and dominion over the space and the drugs could thus have belonged to another person in the residence.

Do be aware, though, that if you live alone, or if you are the only person in a vehicle when illegal drugs are found, there is sufficient evidence in most cases to prove your possession.

Seek an Experienced Drug Possession Attorney

If you have been charged with drug possession, a strong defense could significantly mitigate your penalties. Contact an experienced drug possession attorney to represent you in court and identify the most effective defense strategy to reduce your charge. Let the attorneys at Hester Law Group take care of your case; we will fight for your defense in the face of state drug possession charges.

Contact Hester Law Group today to schedule your free consultation.