What Are Virginia’s Drug Possession Laws?
Virginia law takes drug possession seriously. It states that it’s illegal for anyone to possess a controlled substance without a prescription. The type of charges filed varies according to numerous factors, including the type of controlled substance, the amount, if the person charged has a previous criminal history, and location.
One of the major factors is the type of drug. Virginia classifies controlled substances through what it calls schedules, with six schedules of drugs. The drugs are sorted by whether or not they have any medically approved use in the U.S., any known dangers, or the risk of addiction.
- Schedule I: Drugs such as heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
- Schedule II: Drugs such as fentanyl, oxycodone, cocaine, and morphine.
- Schedule III: Drugs such as anabolic steroids.
- Schedule IV: Drugs such as Valium or Xanax.
- Schedule V: Drugs such as those with reduced amounts of codeine (for example, prescription cough medication).
- Schedule VI: Drugs that are stimulants or depressants that don’t fall into any of Schedules I-V.
What Are the Consequences of Drug Possession Convictions in Virginia?
Being convicted of drug possession in Virginia can lead to severe consequences, which is why it’s crucial to work with an experienced drug possession defense attorney who understands the law and knows what it might take to develop a successful defense.
Drug possession can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, the latter of which is most severe. If the person charged is a first-time offender, they may be allowed to take a first-time offender drug program in lieu of other punishment. Otherwise, the consequences for conviction may include the following.
- Conviction for possession of Schedule I or II drugs: This is the most severe charge, a class 5 felony. It can result in up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $2,500.
- Conviction for possession of Schedule III drugs: This is a class 1 misdemeanor, which can may result in up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
- Conviction for possession of Schedule IV drugs: A class 2 misdemeanor which can result in six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
- Conviction for possession of Schedule V drugs: A class 3 misdemeanor which can result in a fine of up to $500.
- Conviction for possession of Schedule VI drugs: A class 4 misdemeanor that can end up with a fine of up to $250.
The charges’ severity may increase if the person charged has previous criminal records. In Virginia, criminal records are largely permanent, meaning that if convicted, those records may be viewed by others when the person applies for housing or jobs–and can be a deterrent in their being approved for those things.
What Are Some Possible Defenses to Drug Possession Charges in Virginia?
Because there are so many factors at play in drug possession charges, there’s no one-size-fits-all defense for possession. Your attorney can help you understand what defenses may be applicable to your case. Here are a few of the defenses that have been used successfully in the past.
- The drug was legally prescribed or provided to the person by a medical practitioner in a professional practice.
- The drug was found in the person’s home or vehicle, but they didn’t know it was there or it was in someone else’s possession. The possession laws note that the person charged must knowingly or intentionally possess the drug when they shouldn’t. Suppose it can be proven that they didn’t knowingly or intentionally possess it. In that case, that may be a workable defense, especially when the home is occupied by multiple people or the vehicle is used by more than one person.
- The police conducted an illegal search and seizure or engaged in some other form of misconduct, such as not giving the person charged their Miranda rights or reading the Miranda rights after the person confessed to having the drugs. Another situation is law enforcement pulling over a driver without probable cause. Sometimes, there are issues with the chain of custody once law enforcement takes the drugs.
- A witness involved in reporting the possession turns out to be unreliable.
- The drug was misidentified. That could be something such as it being named as illegal when it was legal or not a drug at all, which could require lab tests.
- The amount of the drug was incorrectly calculated.
This is not a complete list. The details of a specific case should determine what type of defense could be most successful.
What Should I Do if I’m Charged with Drug Possession in Virginia?
The best thing to do is to say nothing. If law enforcement has read the Miranda rights to you, they’ve legally informed you that you have the right to remain silent, which you should do. As the Miranda rights spell out, anything you say can be used against you once they’ve been read. It’s better not to speak at all except to ask for your right to contact an attorney.
Call Scott Nolan Criminal Defense as soon as possible at 703-688-9236 to request a free case evaluation. These charges shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially at the felony level. The long-term consequences of a conviction can be life-changing. Our team of experienced, knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys can guide you through the specifics of your case to determine the best approach for a defense.