Drug Charges

Drug cases can be as simple as a teenager arrested with a joint and charged with simple possession or as complicated as a multi-kilo drug conspiracy with 30 co-defendants.

Criminal lawyer defending drugs charges

Misdemeanor Drug Charges

In the case of a person charged with misdemeanor drug possession the lawyer’s job is protecting the client’s good name. This often means side-stepping the charge. In Nashville, a first offense might be dismissed on payment of court costs. Or prosecutors might offer a “plea under advisement” wherein the defendant agrees pay court costs and do eight hours of public service work. A second court date is set to show proof of the public service work after which the lawyer can process the expungement. Another alternative is “judicial diversion” which might include a year of probation after which the charge can be expunged. In the case of a felony drug conviction rights of citizenship, including firearm rights, can be restored through a rather expensive and involved statutory process: Restoration of Citizenship Rights.

Felony Drug Charges:

Felony drug charges get more complicated if the accused possessed a firearm. See TCA 39-17-1324 which provides a 3-year, day for day lockup for conviction, consecutive to the sentence for the underlying drug charge.

Range of Punishment

Per TCA 39-17-417

(There are many ins and outs to these statutes. Please contact your lawyer to make an appointment for specifics.)

Marijuana Penalties:

AmountOffense ClassStd RangeFull Range
≤ ½ ozClass A Misdemeanor11 mos+29 days 
≤ ½ oz 2nd OffenseClass A Misdemeanor11 mos+29 days 
≤ ½ oz 3rd OffenseE Felony1-2 yrs1-6 yrs
½ oz – 10 lbsE Felony + $5K fine1-2 yrs1-6 yrs
10 – 70 lbsD Felony + $50K fine2-4  yrs2-12 yrs
70 – 300 lbsB Felony + $200K fine8-12 yrs8-30 yrs
≥ 300 lbsA Felony + $500K fine15-25 yrs15-60 yrs

Cocaine & Methamphetamine Penalties:

AmountOffense ClassStd RangeFull Range
Meth Simple PossClass A misdemeanorAt least 30 days lockup* 
≤ ½ gramC Felony + $100K fine3-6yrs3-15 yrs
≥ ½ gram  B Felony + $100K fine8-12 yrs8-30 yrs
≥ 26 gramsB Felony + $200K fine8-12 yrs8-30 yrs
≥ 300 gramsA Felony + $500K fine15-25 yrs15-60 yrs

Schedule I – Fentanyl & Heroin Penalties:

AmountOffense ClassStd RangeFull Range
< 15 gramsB Felony + $100K fine8-12 yrs8-30 yrs
≥ 15 gramsB Felony + $200K fine8-12 yrs8-30 yrs
≥ 150 gramsA Felony + $500K fine15-25 yrs15-60 yrs

Drug Free Zones

The Drug-Free School Zone statute, TCA 39-17-432, has been amended in recent years to avoid punishing low and mid-level drug transactions as severely as rape and homicide. (The Tennessee legislature has passed a partial remedy providing a procedure for people convicted under the old statute to petition for resentencing. Here is a sample petition.)

 The law now provides that a violation of TCA 39-17-417 may be punished one classification higher if the offense occurred on school grounds or within 500 feet of a school, library, park, recreation center, or childcare agency. “One classification higher” might mean going from an E felony to a D felony, or a D felony to a C felony and so on.

Generally, a defendant who is not on school grounds but is within the 500 foot zone of a preschool, childcare center, public library, recreational center or park is not subject to additional incarceration.   

However, the judge may order the defendant to serve the minimum sentence for the sentence range.  For example, if a defendant is convicted of a Class B felony, the judge could order the defendant to serve 8 years day for day.

The law stipulates a rebuttable presumption that the defendant is not subject to incarceration for the minimum sentence.  The presumption may be overcome if the judge finds that the defendant’s conduct exposed vulnerable person (children) to distractions and dangers incident to illegal drug activity.

Federal Drug Charges

Big drug conspiracies may require a criminal defense lawyer to spend hundreds of hours going over terabytes of discovery. These documents usually include search warrants, wiretap applications, and line sheets which are written summaries produced from wiretaps.

and listen to audio recordings and watch videos. It is like turning over rocks– looking for evidence that hurts and maybe something that helps.

The defense lawyer may find a weakness in the Government’s case. Perhaps there is an unconstitutional vehicle stop or defects in a search warrant or wiretap application which would require the judge to suppress evidence.

Police often seize legitimate assets including vehicles, real estate and currency. In Tennessee, at the state level, these seizures are processed by the Department of Safety. The defense lawyer can often get some of these assets back for his client.

At the Federal level successfully challenging a wiretap is has become an urban myth. Federal wiretap applications are reviewed at multiple levels within the District and by the higher-ups in Washington, D.C. I cannot remember the last time a wiretap was thrown out.

Federal prosecutors go into drug trials with a 97% conviction rate. The defense lawyer must find some weakness in the case that will lower those odds ore perhaps provide leverage in plea negotiations. It is not an easy job.