Although possession and intent to distribute are both serious crimes, they each have very different potential punishments. The type of punishment given to a defendant is the major difference between the two crimes. While possession alone can be seen as a misdemeanor crime, intent to distribute is always considered a felony crime.
Possession of controlled substances is illegal throughout America. One way to determine possession is when someone has substances on their person (i.e. in their pocket, purse, etc). Another way to determine possession is proving that substances are found in a person’s control. If drugs are found in someone’s house or vehicle, that person is deemed to have control of the drugs found. There are 4 main elements to proving possession of drugs:
- The substance was a controlled substance;
- The defendant possessed the substance;
- His or her possession was knowing; and
- The possession was unlawful.
Possession can have a variety of outcomes depending on different factors. A first time offender with a limited quantity of marijuana will have a drastically different penalty compared to a third-time offender carrying multiple pounds of cocaine. Penalties are mostly dependent on the type and amount of substance found. For a minor offense, a person would be found guilty of a misdemeanor charge and will serve a couple weeks in county jail and/or pay a fine of a couple hundred dollars. For a serious offense, a person would be found guilty of a felony charge and can be imprisoned for up to 20 years and fined up to $100,000.
Intent to Distribute
Intent to distribute is a much more serious offense than just possession. Although law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges cannot read the minds of the defendant, they can examine the circumstances in which the substances were found. Finding an amount too large for only personal use would be a good indicator for intent to distribute. Other indications that the possessor intended to sell the drugs include: the presence of drug paraphernalia, packaging materials, large amounts of money, and communications from customers.
If found guilty of intent to distribute, it is considered a felony charge. The minimum penalty is one year in prison and a potential fine of hundreds of dollars. Depending on if this was a second or third-time offense, the amount of drugs in possession, and the type of drugs in possession, the guilty could be looking at decades in prison.
Understanding criminal law can be a difficult area to navigate. If you or a loved one are faced with a potential possession or intent to distribute case, please call our office today to speak to an expert.