Drug Possession Attorneys

The use of controlled substances, or drugs, has steadily increased in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 9.4% of all Americans has used an illicit drug in the past month. While there is an increasing recognition of drug addiction as a disease, most states — including Ohio — continue to punish drug possession harshly.

In Ohio, it is illegal to knowingly obtain, possess, or use a controlled substance. If you are convicted of drug possession, you could be sentenced to a lengthy stint in jail or prison, and be required to pay a hefty fine. 

If you have been charged with drug possession, you will need a seasoned Mason, OH drug possession attorney to defend you. Engel & Martin was founded by former prosecutors, who now use their knowledge of the Ohio criminal justice system to help clients throughout the greater Cincinnati area with a range of criminal charges — including drug possession.

What Is a Controlled Substance?

Ohio law defines controlled substances as a drug, compound, mixture, preparation, or substance that is included in its drug schedule. Controlled substances are classified into five schedules, from most to least serious. Schedule I includes the substances that are considered more dangerous (and which carry the harshest potential penalties for possession), while Schedule V includes drugs that are considered to have a lower potential for abuse.

The schedule is broken down as follows:

  • Schedule I: substances with a high potential for abuse, and no limited or no accepted medical use. Schedule I drugs include synthetic marijuana, heroin, ecstasy, marijuana, and peyote.
  • Schedule II: substances with a high potential for abuse, but limited accepted use. Schedule II drugs include morphine, cocaine, and GHB.
  • Schedule III: substances with some potential for abuse along with accepted medical uses. Schedule III drugs include ketamine and anabolic steroids.
  • Schedule IV: substances with lower potential for abuse than Schedule III drugs, with known medical uses. Schedule IV drugs may include Ativan, Xanax, and the generic forms of these drugs.
  • Schedule V: substances with the least potential for abuse and which are commonly used for medical treatment. Schedule V drugs include things like acetaminophen with codeine.

This schedule is incredibly important when it comes to drug possession offenses, as the charge is based in part on how the drug is classified. 

Ohio Law on Drug Possession

Under Ohio law, it is a criminal offense to possess a controlled substance. The charge for this crime will depend on the type and amount of drug involved. Based on these factors, a person may be charged with either aggravated drug possession or simple drug possession.

A person who possesses either a Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance — except for marijuana, heroin, cocaine, LSD, and certain other drugs — may be charged with aggravated possession of drugs. The penalty for this charge is based on the amount of the substance that a person possessed:

  • Less than the “bulk” amount: felony in the fifth degree, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500, at least 6 and/or up to 12 months in jail.
  • The bulk amount or more, but less than 5 times the bulk amount: felony in the third degree, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000, and/or between 9 and 36 months in prison.
  • More than 5 times the bulk amount, but less than 50 times this amount: felony in the second degree, punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and/or between 3 and 8 years in prison.
  • 50 times the bulk amount or more, but less than 100 times this amount: felony in the first degree, punishable by a fine of up to $20,000 and/or between 3 and 11 years in prison.
  • 100 times the bulk amount or more: felony in the first degree, punishable by a fine of up to $20,000 and/or up to 11 years in prison.

The “bulk” amount varies based on the controlled substance involved in the charge. A person charged with possessing 100 times or more of the bulk amount will be considered a major drug offender.

In comparison, possession of a Schedule III, IV, or V controlled substance is guilty of possession of drugs. As with aggravated possession, the penalty depends on the amount of drug involved:

  • Less than the bulk amount: misdemeanor in the first degree, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or a maximum of 180 days in jail. For a second or greater offense, the charge is elevated to a felony in the fifth degree, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or a maximum of 12 months in jail.
  • The bulk amount or more, but less than 5 times the bulk amount: felony in the fourth degree, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, and/or between 6 and 18 months in prison.
  • More than 5 times the bulk amount, but less than 50 times this amount: a felony in the third degree, punishable by a maximum fine of $10,000, and between 9 and 36 months in prison.
  • 50 times the bulk amount or more: felony in the second degree, punishable by a fine of up to $15,000 and/or between 2 and 8 years in prison.

For possession of marijuana, the charge is based on the quantity involved. Generally, marijuana possession is a misdemeanor. However, if an individual possesses 200 grams or more of marijuana, it may be charged as a felony offense. Similarly, the charges for possession of cocaine, LDS, and heroin are based on the quantity of drug that was possessed.

What Does It Mean to Possess a Drug?

Charges for drug possession require the prosecution to prove that a person “possessed” the drug. This can happen in one of two ways: through actual or constructive possession.

Actual possession means that a person had actual physical control of the drug, such as on your body or in your purse. Actual possession is usually simple to prove: if you were holding the drugs in your hand or had them in a pocket, that is usually sufficient to show possession.

In contrast, it can be difficult for prosecutors to prove constructive possession, which occurs when a person didn’t have physical control over a substance, but the drug was in an area that was under their control. This is demonstrated by showing:

  1. The accused was aware that the controlled substance was in their vicinity;
  2. They knew that the substance was illegal; and
  3. The substance was close enough for them to actually possess, or was otherwise in close proximity to the accused.

For example, if the police stopped you for speeding and noticed a baggie of what appears to be heroin on the front passenger seat beside you, they will likely arrest you for drug possession. If you were the only one in the vehicle and it was obvious that the substance in the baggie was heroin or another drug, that may be enough to prove constructive possession. However, if you had just dropped off a friend, and had no clue that this baggie had fallen out of their pocket, your criminal defense lawyer may be able to argue that you had no knowledge that the drug was even there — and cannot be charged with drug possession as a result.

Defending Against a Drug Possession Charge 

There are many potential defenses to a drug possession charge, depending on the facts of a specific case. In the example above, a drug possession charge may be defeated by demonstrating that you did not have constructive possession of the drug. 

Another potential defense to a drug possession may arise if the police made an illegal stop or performed an illegal search. Law enforcement must follow specific rules in making stops and in doing a search or seizure without a warrant. If those rules aren’t followed, then the case against you may be dismissed.

In some cases, drug possession charges may be reduced by demonstrating that the drugs were for personal use. While this generally isn’t possible if you were caught with a large amount of drugs, there are cases where it may be reasonable to have a certain quantity of drugs for your own use. An experienced drug possession lawyer may be able to get your charges reduced from a fifth-degree felony down to a fourth-degree felony, or even a misdemeanor.

Facing Drug Charges in Ohio? We Can Help.

Drug possession charges can have an incredibly negative impact on your life. Depending on the drug and quantity involved, you may be facing as much as 11 years in prison, along with hefty fines. Drug possession charges can also result in a number of other consequences, such as an inability to obtain certain types of student loans.

At Engel & Martin, we work hard to protect our clients’ rights and freedom. We will thoroughly investigate your Ohio drug possession case and develop strong factual and legal defenses, with the goal of resolving the charge in the most favorable way for you. Reach out today at 513-445-9600 or email us at any time to schedule a consultation with a Mason, OH drug possession attorney.

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