Breaking Down Felony Drug ChargesEarlier this month, the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Deputies executed a search warrant at the home of Chris Appleby, a 33-year-old Amish man in Lawrence, Tennessee. According to various news sources, there were enough complaints lodged by neighbors to justify the warrant.

It appears that justification was right. During their search, law enforcement officials discovered about 25 pounds of  marijuana in two different locations, 13 weapons, and plenty of cash. He is facing multiple drug and weapons charges.

Much of what we have read and seen has focused on the fact that Appleby is Amish (not by birth), but as criminal defense lawyers, we are focused on the charges. We do not know what those charges are, but we can take an education guess.

What is felony drug possession?

When a person possesses drugs, either on their person or in their home, that person can face a drug possession charge. Drug possession may be characterized as either a misdemeanor or a felony depending on several factors. Simple drug possession – like having a joint on you – is a misdemeanor. A felony drug possession charge indicates an intent to sell, and the amounts can vary based on the substance.

To convict someone of a drug possession charge, prosecutors have to prove that the person knowingly and intentionally possessed the drug, and that he or she have personal and physical control over the drug. Typically, prosecutors accomplish this by proving that the person knew the drugs were present through the circumstances of the case. In this case, having 25lbs of marijuana in one’s home is a significant indicator that a person knows the drugs are there, and intends to sell or deliver the drugs.

Understanding constructive possession

Under the law, a person does not actually have to have drugs on his or body (“actual possession”) to be charged with possession. This is because of a legal concept called “constructive possession.” Constructive possession is a situation where the person has a certain amount of drugs in their home, or car, or other property. To convict someone of a possession charge, a prosecutor must prove that the person had at least some control over the drug.

What are some of the factors that lead to a felony drug possession charge?

One of the factors that play a role in whether a person will be convicted of a felony drug possession charge is the type of drug that was found in the person’s possession. Possession of heroin in any amount, for example, is an automatic felony.

One of the factors involves whether the person has any prior convictions. If the person has any past convictions, there is a greater chance of the drug possession charge becoming a felony.

Where the person was arrested can also affect the charge. A person arrested for drug possession on or near a school, a school bus, or a school bus stop may be charged with a felony. The same is true if a person is caught possessing drugs in the presence of a minor.

Finally, possessing a large amount of a specific drug also plays a role in classifying a drug possession charge as a felony, because it implies an intent to sell. In Appleby’s case, 25lbs is too much to possess for personal use.

Intent to sell vs. drug trafficking

Selling and trafficking are different charges. If you are accused of possessing, say, five pounds of marijuana – enough to indicate that you intend to sell it, since five pounds is a significant amount of drugs – your case should remain within the state’s jurisdiction.

However, if you have 300+ lbs of marijuana, you can be charged by the state with trafficking. If you have 2200lbs or 1,000 plants, or if you are caught selling marijuana over state lines, you can be charged by the federal government with trafficking. All trafficking charges are incredibly serious, and can result in a lifetime in prison.

What are the penalties for felony marijuana charges?

The penalties you face are based on what (and how much) you are accused of having. If you are charged with felony possession with intent to sell, your penalties are based on the amount of marijuana:

  • .5 oz to 10lbs: up to six years in prison and/or up to $5000 in fines
  • 10-70lbs: up to 12 years in prison and/or up to $50,000 in fines
  • 70-300lbs: up to 30 years in prison and/or up to $10,000 in fines
  • 300+lbs: up to60 years in prison and/or up to $200,000 in fines

Cultivation – i.e., possession of at least 10 plants – can vary from 1 year in prison to 60 year in prison, and $5,000 to $500,000 in fines, based on how many plants you possess.

Manufacture, sale, and/or delivery of hash convictions can lead to between 6 and 60 years in prison, and between $2,500 and $500,000 in fines. Again, this depends on how much hash you are accused of possessing.

Finally, it is a felony to sell drug paraphernalia. A conviction can cost you up to six years in prison and/or up to $3,000 in fines.

The Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates understands how serious felony drug possession charges are. We aggressively pursue justice for clients. Call us today at 615-977-9370, or complete the contact form to sche