New York State has long had a reputation for some of the toughest drug laws in the nation, and while we no longer have mandatory minimum sentences (as was the case under the Rockefeller Drug Laws passed in 1973), our penal code still sets down very serious penalties for the possession and sale of controlled substances. However, drug laws in America are in a state of flux, as medical and recreational marijuana gain political ground and become enmeshed in regional and state economies, and while public opinions swings toward laxity and reform.
The growing sentiment to decriminalize drugs and reduce penalties for possession means very little, however, to a person charged with possession or sale today. A drug conviction will have a major impact on your life, family, and career. It could entail heavy fines and significant prison time. These prison sentences will increase drastically for second, third, and subsequent convictions.
Furthermore, the State has a broad understanding of “possession.” For example, if you're in a car, house, or apartment with someone else who has marijuana, you could be charged with possession even if the drug was never in your hands or on your person. This is called “constructive possession.” Constructive possession means you know that the controlled substance or marijuana is present and that you have some ability to control what happens to it.
Your prospects in any drug case will depend on the circumstances of your arrest and your background. As such, if you're facing a drug charge, you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. You won't be able to plan your way out of this, no matter how many informative blog posts you read – but an experienced criminal defense attorney can work with you to achieve the best possible result.
While you're waiting for your first consultation with your attorney, however, it can help to educate yourself about the broad strokes of common criminal charges and their penalties in New York State.
BREAKDOWN OF DRUG POSSESSION PENALTIES IN NEW YORK
If you are charged for possessing a controlled substance without a valid prescription, you could face:
- Class A-I Felony – Drug charges for eight or more ounces of a controlled substance that is listed as a narcotic drug or more than 5,760 milligrams of methadone. Penalties include fines of up to $100,000 and you could be sentenced to 15 – 25 years in prison.
- Class A–II Felony – Drug charges for four to seven ounces of controlled substances listed as narcotic drugs, two or more ounces of meth, ten grams or more of a controlled substance listed as a stimulant (such as Ritalin), 625 milligrams or more of a controlled substance listed as a hallucinogen, 25 grams or more of a hallucinogenic substance; or between 2,880 and 5,760 milligrams of methadone. You could face a fine of up to $50,000 as well as between three years and eight years, four months in prison.
- Class B Felony – Drug charges between one and a half and four ounces of a narcotic; between five and ten grams of a stimulant; between five and 25 milligrams of LSD; between five and 25 grams of hallucinogens; or 1,250 milligrams or more of PCP. You could face up to 25 years in prison and be fined up to $30,000.
- Class C Felony – Drug charges between 1/8 and ½ ounce of a controlled substance; between ½ and 2 ounces of meth; between one and five grams of a stimulant; between one and five milligrams of LSD; between 25 and 625 milligrams of a hallucinogenic; ten ounces or more of a controlled dangerous depressant; two pounds or more of a depressant medication; between 250 and 1,2050 milligrams of PCP' between 360 and 2,880 milligrams of methadone; 4,000 grams or more of ketamine; or 200 grams or more of GHB. If you're charged with a Class C felony, you could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and be fined up to $15,000.
- Class D Felony – Drug charges for ½ ounce or more of a narcotic; between 50 and 250 milligrams of PCP; 500 milligrams or more of cocaine; between 1,000 and 4,000 milligrams of ketamine; and between 28 and 200 grams of GHB. You could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
- Class A Misdemeanor – Drug charges for the possession of any controlled substance not listed (other than marijuana). You could be sentenced to up to one year in prison and receive a fine of up to $1,000.
Additionally, there are charges related to possession that could cause you to face up to 20 years in prison, which is why it is imperative that you consult with an experienced Buffalo drug charge lawyer to explain your rights and help prepare a strong defense.
There are two different classes of marijuana possession charges in New York State, and both carry different penalties.
|Unlawful possession of marijuana||Violation||$100 fine|
|Possession of marijuana over 25 grams||Misdemeanor||Fine, plus up to one year in jail|
Drug charges for marijuana in New York depend on the amount of marijuana that is on your person or that you have constructive possession over. There are misdemeanor and felony charges. First degree possession is more than 10 pounds of marijuana and you could face up to 15 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
It will be harder to defend against solid evidence that you were in possession of 25 grams or more of marijuana if police stop you and find this on your person. However, in any case an attorney might be able to challenge the prosecution on the grounds that police stopped you without sufficient cause. Because New York State has decriminalized marijuana, and because local law enforcement agencies can be slow to adjust to these legal changes, police can sometimes overstep their bounds – and violate your rights – during an arrest for drug possession.
There are many strategies for defending against marijuana charges. If this is your first charge, you might secure an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal (ACD). This means that the court will essentially drop all charges if you do not have any more encounters with law enforcement over a certain period. Consult with an attorney who's tried these strategies before, and who can defend your rights in court.
Compared to marijuana, there is no vocal “lobby” for the decriminalization of narcotics like cocaine and heroin. Penalties for possession of cocaine are much more severe than for marijuana; and courts will consider possession of any more than half a gram to imply intent to sell.
|Possession of half a gram or less||Misdemeanor (A)||Fine, plus up to one year in jail|
|Possession of more than half a gram||Felony||Over one year in jail|
Your attorney will be able to advise you about possible defenses for a cocaine possession charge. You may want to make good-faith gestures to the court, such as electing to undergo drug evaluation and treatment. This may result in charges being reduced or even dismissed.
Heroin has caught and held the public's attention over the last few years, especially in Western New York. We now recognize that opiate use in all forms is an epidemic, spanning traditional heroin, adulterated forms of heroin, and prescription opiates like oxycodone and fentanyl.
Luckily, this has coincided with a shift toward treatment and rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Charges for heroin possession are very to those for cocaine – the only significant difference is in measuring the substance. As with cocaine, a convicted person increases the chance of having a sentence reduced or dismissed if he or she elects to undergo evaluation and treatment.
EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE FOR DRUG CHARGES
Drew Fritsch has handled hundreds of drug possession cases in Buffalo NY and the surrounding areas, and steered many client's toward dismissed or reduced charges. As a former prosecutor, he is able to think through a case from both sides and select the most effective defense.