10 May What Is The General Timeline Of A Drug Case In North Carolina?
In state court, it depends on the kind of drug case, the speed at which the prosecutor pursues it, and whether the accused is released pending trial. In many cases, the state must test the substance to determine that it’s an illegal drug. If the case is charged as a felony offense, it usually winds through district court and preliminary proceedings before being presented to a grand jury for an indictment. If the person is indicted, the state must provide the defense with the contents of its entire investigation, including reports, recordings, and laboratory results. It is not uncommon for drug cases to take up to a year or more to get to trial.
Federal court is different because the government selects cases differently. In general, the government pursues cases involving larger conspiracies or greater amounts of drugs. Lots of times the investigation is complete before the government adopts the case so a trial will be scheduled more quickly.
In the Middle District of North Carolina, a person charged with a drug offense may have a trial within forty-five days of the first appearance on the charge.
Potential Penalties Associated With A Drug Related Conviction
Penalties for drug convictions vary widely, depending on the substance, whether the person is charged with possession, intent to distribute, or sale. Trafficking offenses expose people to the highest penalties in state court.
Trafficking in North Carolina is based on the amount of a particular drug. For example, possession of 28 grams or more of cocaine exposes a person to a trafficking offense. There are several ways you can be convicted of trafficking, including possession, manufacture, sale, distribution or transport. Each method of trafficking is a separate offense so a person who drives to a location and delivers a trafficking amount of drugs to someone may be convicted and sentenced for trafficking by possession, transport, and delivery of the drugs.
Possession in excess of ten pounds of marijuana is trafficking. Some substances require less than an ounce to rise to a trafficking amount. The penalties for trafficking are set by statute and vary based on the substance.
If the weight of the drugs is lower than a trafficking amount, the penalties vary based on the classification of the drug and whether the conviction is for possessing, possessing with the intent to distribute, or selling the drugs. Most drug offenses start with a potential probationary sentence, but increase with each conviction. A person with a criminal record is exposed to a longer, more severe sentence.
For some possession offenses, a judge has discretion to give a person the opportunity to complete a probationary sentence and have the conviction discharged. The judge can put the person on probation and impose requirements, like community service and attending drug treatment. At the end of the probationary period, the conviction will be discharged if the person successfully completes the conditions of the sentence.
Alternative Punishments Or Diversion Programs
There are good and bad alternative programs. I focus on whether the program is going to help my client under the circumstances of the case. A good program may not be in my client’s best interest in some situations. Sometimes the consequences of being in a drug court are not beneficial, given what the person is facing. Other times, it is the only way for the person to escape severe consequences, so it just depends on our options.
There are programs created to allow a person to participate in treatment, accomplish goals, and have the case dismissed. Other programs require a conviction, include greater scrutiny, and offer more opportunities to fail. I am less fond of those programs, but will consider them if they benefit my client.
Potential Defense Strategies Used In Drug Cases
It is not that uncommon to have clients, especially in a college town, drawn into cases where they are not guilty. I have had plenty of cases over the years where my client was accused of possessing drugs because he was in a car or house where drugs were located, but my client was unaware of the presence of the drugs. It sounds obvious, but one defense strategy is actual innocence or “I am not guilty of possessing the drugs.”
Another situation is where a person is accused of distributing drugs, but possessed the drugs for her own use. The fact that she was not in the business of distributing or selling drug is a defense. It may not be a defense to the whole case, but may be a defense to the distribution charge. In all trafficking offenses, the weight is a critical element so we will scrutinize and may challenge the weight of the drugs involved.
Many drug charges create issues about the search and seizure. Is there a search warrant, is the search warrant valid, or, if not, did the police observe the person’s constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment? Search and seizure issues are commons challenges in drug cases.