Controlled Substance Law
Controlled Substances Act (CSA)
What is Controlled Substance Law?
Controlled substance law consists of prohibitions against the unauthorized possession of drugs that the government has determined to be dangerous, habit-forming, or otherwise not appropriate for use without a prescription. Statutes setting forth these laws have been enacted at all levels of government, including most local municipalities. Violations can result in criminal fines and incarceration. The severity of the penalty in any given case is determined primarily by the quantity of controlled substances involved and whether the offender has past convictions for similar crimes.
At the federal level, Congress enacted the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970 in an effort to categorize regulated drugs based on their potential for abuse, as well as the benefits they provide from a medical standpoint. States have enacted their own schedules in much the same fashion. Drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and many other street and prescription drugs are placed within one of five "schedules." The most harmful substances appear in Schedule I, and the rest appear in descending order accordingly.
By placing all controlled substances into schedules, legislatures can then enact criminal statutes that incorporate the schedules by reference. This avoids the need to list all substances covered by a particular law within the text of the law itself. It also provides a convenient means for updating drug laws within a jurisdiction all at once, as individual drugs can be added or removed from the schedules as necessary without the need to amend all the other drug laws. For example, in the year 2000, Congress added the date-rape drug "GHB" to Schedule I, thereby automatically making it illegal under every federal drug law that references that schedule.
Criminal Charges and Statutory Issues
While law enforcement agencies carry out the investigation and apprehension of alleged controlled substance law offenders, the prosecuting attorney will have the final say in charging decisions. This discretion is important because the same conduct can often form the basis for a variety of criminal charges and corresponding punishments. Consider a case in which the defendant is caught giving marijuana to an acquaintance. A prosecutor could potentially charge the case as simple possession, possession with intent to distribute, delivery, trafficking, conspiracy to commit trafficking, and so on.
Once the nature of the charges is known, the defendant and his or her attorney must carefully review the language of the criminal statute. The precise wording of the statute is extremely important. Each portion should be considered individually, and thought of as a separate element that the state must prove in order to convict. In addition to the identity and weight of the substance recovered from the defendant, there may be issues as to the defendant's knowledge of the substance, or whether the substance was actually in the defendant's control.
Fourth Amendment Concerns
The fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. Law enforcement can only intrude upon an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy under narrow circumstances, especially when acting without a search warrant. Controlled substance cases almost always trigger search and seizure concerns because at some point in the investigation, officers will be invading the suspect's privacy in order to locate and take possession of the drugs.
In fact, the government can violate a suspect's fourth amendment rights in a number of ways besides conducting an improper search. Rights may be violated from performing an unjustified traffic stop (that subsequently leads to the discovery of controlled substances), by making false statements in order to obtain a warrant, or through the use of illegal wiretapping or eavesdropping. In all such cases the defendant may have grounds to suppress the evidence recovered as a result of the unconstitutional actions by the police. This means the evidence cannot be considered, typically leaving the prosecutor with no choice but to dismiss the charges.
Alternative Sentencing Programs for Drug Offenders
Prisons in the United States are badly overcrowded. Government data shows that a large proportion of prison inmates are serving time for non-violent drug offenses. The expense to the taxpayer associated with high incarceration rates has led to a lack of support for the status quo among the American public. As a result, those convicted of controlled substance offenses have new options available besides going to jail, especially when the alternative sentencing program can be made part of a voluntary plea agreement.
The most widely-used sentencing alternative is known as "drug court." For participants who are genuinely interested in making meaningful changes in their lives and permanently committing to sobriety, drug court can be a successful experience. It usually consists of weekly group meetings, held in court and in front of the judge, but in a more relaxed atmosphere than formal criminal proceedings. Participants are rewarded with less supervision for staying clean, and can be immediately sent to jail as punishment for failed chemical tests, which are administered regularly.
Controlled Substance Law Attorneys
If you are facing criminal prosecution for a controlled substance violation, it is critical that you refrain from speaking any further with law enforcement, and that you seek help from an attorney right away. The law provides you with strong protections, but to take advantage you need an experienced attorney to advise you.
Know Your Rights!
- A Guide to Drug Crimes and the Law
A conviction for possession or distribution of drugs can carry serious punishments, including fines, a misdemeanor or felony charge, or jail time. Some states may offer alternative sentences such as court ordered rehab. In this comprehensive guide to drug crime law, learn more about the sentencing guidelines, how to fight a drug charge, and how a lawyer may be able to help you.
- Alternative Legal Consequences for Drug Crimes
Drug convictions usually lead to fines or jail time. However, there are other possible consequences. The defendant might be asked to go to court-ordered rehab, or might find themselves in drug courts. Learn more about how these alternate consequences work.
- Dealing with Drug Charges
By far, one of the most common class of crimes to pass through the American legal system is the drug case. Whether possession or distribution, drug cases have gotten a lot of attention from both the media and legislators since the 1980's and the beginning of the "War on Drugs." However, these laws are changing for some substances, like marijuana, so it is important to get a basic understanding of the state of the law related to controlled substances.
- How to Fight Drug Possession Charges
Every year, thousands of people are arrested on drug possession charges. Many of these charges relate to very small amounts of controlled substances in a person's car or on their person. These cases are an enormous percentage of the criminal court dockets of every state, leading to almost routine behavior of drug possession defendants and sentencing. But, it is possible to fight these types of charges and obtain a more favorable outcome.
- What Are the Different Schedules of Drugs
In criminal prosecutions, one often hears various drugs referred to by different schedules. But what are the schedules, which drugs are on them, and what do they mean?
Controlled Substances Law Article
- Simple Possession of Marijuana In South CarolinaAn introduction to the law surrounding Simple Possession of Marijuana criminal charges in South Carolina.
- Florida’s New ‘Bong Bill’ Becomes Law, but Will It Have any Effect?Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, say victorious supporters of Florida House Bill 187, the so-called “Bong Bill.” Their theory: fewer available smoking implements mean less firing up.
- Illegal Use of Prescription Drugs in New JerseyPrescription drug abuse is on the rise in New Jersey and around the country, posing serious health risks and driving new lucrative criminal enterprises. This month, police in the north New Jersey town of Fairview found $5 million worth of prescription drugs in a home where three men and a teen lived.
- Florida Police Officer Arrested for Drug PossessionPolice officers are entrusted with upholding and enforcing the laws, and much of the time, officers do a fine job. Unfortunately, sometimes this trust is misplaced.
- Supreme Court Offers Reprieve for Some Immigrants with Drug ConvictionsEven minor drug offenses can result in serious penalties, but this is particularly true for non-citizen immigrants in the United States. Whereas a simple charge for possession of marijuana might result in a small fine for a citizen, this same charge may leave a non-citizen just a few steps away from deportation. However, the U.S. Supreme Court recently offered immigrants a reprieve in limited situations.
- Criminal Justice System May Get Much Needed OverhaulOur criminal justice system obeys the law of unintended consequences. Eventually, all of our policy decisions have consequences, and some of those come back to haunt us. We can see this in the aftermath of the crackdown on crime in this country.
- Drug Kingpin Turned Informant Sentenced in Secrecy to 25 YearsOsiel Cárdenas was once one of Mexico’s most feared drug lords.
- Sentencing Guidelines Vary Widely for State and Federal Drug CrimesAn Eastern Washington man arrested with 11 pounds of crystal methamphetamine and more than a pound of heroin was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
- Medical Marijuana Legalized in New JerseyMarijuana is undergoing a rapid public relations makeover. In the past few years, marijuana’s image as a street drug has morphed into that of a legitimate medicine, now legal for use in 14 states.
- Common Marijuana Charges in CaliforniaThis article provides a brief overview of common marijuana charges in California.
- All Criminal Law Articles