State Drug Investigations and Charges
State Controlled Substance Offenses
(VUCSA – Violation of the Controlled Substances Act)
In Washington, the term “controlled substance” is used to refer to all illegal drugs including street drugs such as cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, prescribed drugs, and compounds that drugs are made from. Washington State aggressively prosecutes drug offenders; the majority of drug offenses are felonies. The set of rules governing controlled substances in Washington is called the Uniform Controlled Substances Act and can be found at RCW 69.50. This Act prohibits a wide range of conduct relating to various controlled substances and activities. Washington State does prosecute individuals who possess controlled substances for recreational purposes or without a valid prescription. It is critical to know your rights if you or someone you know is being investigated for a drug offense. Early intervention by an attorney can improve the outcome of your case. Controlled substances offenses can be very complicated with the potential for lengthy jail or prison sentences. However, in some circumstances, treatment can take the place of a punitive outcome. Controlled substances offenses can also impact your ability to obtain federal funding (such as student loans). Michele has extensive experience representing individuals charged with all manner of controlled substances offenses.
Federal Controlled Substances Offenses
In some cases, particularly those where very large quantities of controlled substances are involved, or where individuals cross state lines, the Federal Government may also be investigating the case and considering federal prosecution. It is important to be aware that a State charge and conviction will not preclude the Federal Government from submitting a case to the Grand Jury and seeking an indictment. Therefore, it is critical to consult with an attorney who is experienced in evaluating controlled substance offenses. Michele has worked closely with State prosecutors and United States Attorneys (Federal Prosecutors) to ensure clients are not charged twice with the same conduct. Michele has successfully negotiated agreements with the United States Attorney’s office to ensure that clients who accept a State offer of resolution will not also be prosecuted federally.
State Marijuana Laws
I-502 legalized the recreational use of marijuana. However, this does not mean that all marijuana use is legal. Marijuana possession is still illegal for anyone under the age of twenty-one. Anyone over the age of twenty-one may legally possess one ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of solid marijuana (such as cookies), or 72 ounces of liquid marijuana (such as oil). Possession of marijuana in any form remains illegal under Federal law. Anyone in possession of marijuana may still be prosecuted under Federal law. The penalties under Federal law are strict and may include prison time, forfeiture of assets, and denial of Federal benefits. It still remains illegal to drive while under the influence of marijuana. THC levels at greater than or equal to 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood is illegal. Your employer may also still prohibit marijuana use and legally test for its presence. Marijuana use in public is highly discouraged but will likely only result in a civil infraction under state law. However, public marijuana use may result in Federal charges. Additionally, the sale of marijuana is restricted to individuals who possess a license from the State of Washington. Again, having a license from the State of Washington does not insulate you from Federal prosecution. Home-grown marijuana for recreational use, as well as sale, remains illegal under both State and Federal laws.
Drug Addiction and Alternatives to Jail
In many cases, individuals who suffer from drug addictions become criminal defendants. Charges can stem from those relating directly to drug use and possession or result from behavior that corresponds to addiction such as stealing or trespass. Whatever the charge, Michele has the experience to aggressively represent you in your criminal proceedings while helping you obtain the appropriate treatment to get out of the cycle of addiction. It is critical to consult with an attorney early in the criminal process or before charges are filed. If addiction is an issue entering treatment can be a huge negotiating point and help keep you out of jail.
Increasingly, individuals who suffer from drug addiction are being given second changes through program such as Drug Courts. In many cases this can be a road to a new life as Drug Court provides additional services to help clients obtain jobs, housing, and counseling. Drug court allows individuals to receive treatment in lieu of incarceration. Eligible defendants who elect to participate in the program agree to conditions with the court including supervision by the court, treatment, random urinalysis, and to appear for regular court hearings. If the defendants meet the requirements of the program, they graduate from the program and the charges are dismissed. However, if they fail to make progress they are terminated from the program and sentenced on their original charge. At a minimum, the program is a 10-month commitment although most individuals take longer to complete. Not all cases are eligible for drug court, therefore it is important to have an attorney evaluate all your options.
Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA)
The DOSA program allows a Judge to waive the standard range sentence and impose a sentence of either a prison-based alternative or a residential chemical dependency treatment-based alternative. The residential chemical dependency treatment-based alternative is only available if the midpoint of the standard range is twenty-four months or less. In order to be eligible the offense must only have involved a “small quantity” of the controlled substance as determined by the judge upon consideration of such factors as the weight, purity, packaging, sale price, and street value of the controlled substance. Individuals who are subject to a deportation detainer are not eligible for a DOSA. Certain crimes are excluded from eligibility:
- Violent felonies or Sex Offenses
- Offenses involving a sentence enhancement under RCW 9.94A.533(3)or(4) (weapon enhancements)
- Felony DUI or Physical Control
It is not unusual for individuals charged with drug offenses to also experience mental health issues. These clients may have what is known as co-occurring disorders where there is one or more disorder relating to the use of alcohol or drug abuse as well as one or more mental health disorder. For these clients, issues relating to the criminal matter often take a backseat to the more prominent need to identify and treat the mental health issues. It is critical to address these issues promptly and thoroughly as clients suffering from co-occurring disorders often have a high risk of self-harm or engaging in behavior that can result in further criminal charges. Michele is not only experienced in this area but passionate about helping clients and families solve these difficult problems.
The standard sentence range may be enhanced for certain VUCSA crimes that occur in a protected zone, such as within 1000 feet of school. The penalties may also be enhanced if the crime occurred while a person under the age of 18 was present, if the crime was committed while in a correctional facility, if the individual sold drugs to a minor at least three years younger than the offender, or if the court finds the crime was committed while in possession of a firearm or deadly weapon. These penalty enhancements can significantly increase the sentencing range for a drug offense.
Schedule of Controlled Substances
RCW 69.50 divides various controlled substances into categories referred to as “schedules”. The schedules are determined by the pharmacy quality assurance commission which evaluates which level each substance should be placed in. The commission evaluates factors such as the substance’s potential for abuse, whether it has a currently accepted medical treatment in the United States, and whether it has or lacks accepted safety for use in treatment under medical supervision, and whether abuse may lead to dependence.
Drug conspiracy crimes are some of the most far-reaching and vague offenses in the criminal system. An individual can be charged with conspiracy without ever having bought, sold or possessed any type of controlled substance. A conspiracy is officially an agreement between two or more people to commit a crime. A person is guilty of criminal conspiracy when, with intent that conduct constituting a crime be performed, he or she agrees with one or more persons to engage in or cause the performance of such conduct, and any one of them takes a substantial step in furtherance of the agreement. In the context of drug transactions, the most common conspiracy charge is the agreement to sell a controlled substance. Drug conspiracy investigations can be far-reaching and result in the arrest of innocent people because investigators and prosecutors tend to be overly-inclusive in how wide they cast their net.
Possession of a Controlled Substance
Possession of a Controlled Substance occurs when anyone possesses a substance that is listed on the Government’s schedule of controlled substances. Controlled substances include a wide variety of substances including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, medications that require a prescription, ecstasy, steroids, methadone, amphetamines and substances used to create illegal drugs. Possession of a controlled substance is a Class C felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Possession with Intent to Distribute
Possession with Intent to Distribute occurs when an individual possesses a controlled substance and there is corresponding evidence that the intent was to distribute the substance to others. This evidence may come in the form of recorded conversations about sales, surveillance of meetings to conduct drug sales, or evidence of sales such as large forms of currency. Prosecutors attempt to prove intent to deliver by showing a large amount of drugs, by showing sales records, a large amount of money, or the presence of scales. In some cases, a consumer of drugs may simply have a scale to assure that he is getting what he pays for. There is often a fine line between possession and possession with intent. It is important to distinguish between possession and possession with intent to deliver because possession with intent to deliver or sell is a Class B felony and carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Distribution of a Controlled Substance
Distribution of a Controlled Substance occurs when there is evidence that an individual is distributing a controlled substance without lawful authority. The distribution does not require an exchange of money but may include the distribution of controlled substances without compensation.
Conspiracy to Manufacture a Controlled Substance
Conspiracy to Manufacture a Controlled Substance occurs when two or more individuals make a plan to manufacture a controlled substance. This may include growing marijuana or creating drugs such as cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine from other products.
Controlled Substance Homicide
If someone dies after being given a controlled substance, the individual who gave them the substance can be held criminally liable and charged with the specific crime of Controlled Substance Homicide. Certainly no one intends to cause the death of another person when they deliver a controlled substance. However, in the mind of the State this is a new and distinct charge from the delivery of the substance. If you have distributed a controlled substances and know that a death resulted to a user contact an attorney immediately. Controlled substance homicide is a Class B felony with potential penalties of up 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Medical professionals are constrained by their professional guidelines (codified as the Uniform Disciplinary Act 18.130 RCW) as well as the Controlled Substances Act. Any medical professional who violates either can face criminal charges and disciplinary action by the State Medical Board. It is important to consult with an attorney early and know your rights within both areas before making any statements or cooperating. Violations involving controlled substances may include the possession, use, prescription for use, or distribution of controlled substances or legend drugs in any way other than for legitimate or therapeutic purposes, diversion of controlled substances or legend drugs (drugs requiring a prescription), the violation of any drug law, or prescribing controlled substances for oneself. Violations may also include the practitioner’s own misuse of alcohol, controlled substances, or legend drugs.
Arrest and Search and Seizure Issues
There are laws in place to protect individual rights of privacy and limit the authority of law enforcement to search individuals and/or their property. In some drug cases, there are issues that arise with the search that results in the arrest and seizure of the controlled substance. If law enforcement violates these rights, the evidence may be suppressed and your case potentially dismissed. It is important to consult with an attorney who is familiar with the current law on search and seizure issues in order to ensure your rights are protected.
Many drug cases have the additional consideration of forfeiture. Forfeiture refers to civil lawsuits filed by the government in order to seize and obtain the ownership of property that has been obtained or used in relation to illegal drug activity. The property seized can be anything from the drugs themselves to cash, real property, and vehicles. The purpose is to recover the expense of the drug enforcement activities.