In general, drug possession in the Washington DC is a misdemeanor crime. Possession of cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and other illegal substances carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. Some drug crimes are misdemeanors while others are felonies. Typically, DC prosecutors and judges tend to view drug crimes through the lens of forcing the defendant to get treatment rather than lock them in jail. In 2014, DC legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana after first decriminalizing the drug.
Are there diversion options for DC drug crimes?
For first time offenders, DC criminal law has a special provision that is basically “probation before judgment.” Section 904.01(e) under Chapter 48 of the DC code permits a judge to sentence an individual to probation without entering a judgment when it is that person’s first drug related conviction.
What that means is if the person completes probation successfully at the end of the probation, the Court seals up the arrest record and case. Probation before judgment is a way to avoid having a conviction on one’s record. It is completely within the judge’s discretion to sentence someone to probation before judgment and the person must have no prior drug related convictions in any jurisdiction (not just in Washington DC).
In addition, typical options for drug crimes include deferred sentencing agreements (“DSA”), deferred prosecution agreements (“DPA”), drug court, and mental health court. In each of these options, the defendant has an opportunity to have his case dismissed without going to trial. In a DPA and DSA, the defendant completes community service in exchange for a dismissal of the charges. Drug Court involves rigorous drug treatment and repeated court dates. If the defendant successfully completes the program, then the case gets dismissed. The same is with Mental Health Community Court but it also includes mental health treatment in addition to drug treatment.
Is drug possession in DC a felony?
The penalties significantly increase for more serious drug crimes such as possession with the intent to distribute or distribution, which are both felonies. The government usually charges possession with intent to distribute in cases where there are large quantities of drugs seized as well as what the government calls “indicia of sale.”
Indicia of sale include things like scales, little baggies, and other paraphernalia one might use in the sale of illegal drugs. Distribution cases arise usually where the police observe an individual actually selling illegal drugs. The most common scenario is a “buy bust” where an undercover police officer poses as a drug purchaser, buys drugs from a suspected dealer, and then subsequently arrests the person.
Lastly, the possession of phencyclidine or “PCP” in its liquid form is a felony charge regardless of whether the possessor intends to sell it or use it for personal use. The DC City Council, the police, the prosecution, and the court all take PCP very seriously. As a result, unlike simple possession for other drugs, possession of PCP in its liquid form carries significantly greater penalties than possession of other illegal drugs and the government does not have to prove that the person intended to sell or distribute the drug.
Is Marijuana Illegal in DC?
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law and illegal to sell in DC. However, under local DC law, possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal. However, smoking in public also remains illegal. The Office of Attorney General for the District of Columbia prosecutes smoking marijuana in public offenses and usually offers some form of diversion like community service in exchange for dismissal of the charges.
The maximum penalty for smoking marijuana in public is 60 days in jail and/or a $500.00 fine. Its also legal (under DC but not federal law) to gift small amounts of marijuana. Gifting any other illegal substances constitutes distribution under DC law and remains a felony. Police have also cracked down on marijuana related pop up events.
Should I hire a lawyer for DC drug charge?
If you have been arrested for a drug crime in DC, you absolutely need a qualified attorney to represent you and protect your rights. While DC in general treats drug possession as more of a public health issue and focuses on treatment as opposed to incarceration, it is still very difficult for anyone to navigate the court system without an attorney. A qualified DC drug attorney can advise you properly on your best options, negotiate the best deal with the prosecution, and go to trial where necessary to protect your rights and prove your innocence.
Its important to contact an experienced DC drug possession lawyer when charged with a drug crime. Conviction of a drug crime can lead to jail time, fines, or probation as well as a number of other bad consequences. Scrofano Law has handled dozens of drug crimes in DC resulting in dismissals, acquittals, and probationary sentences. If you are charged with a DC drug crime, contact Scrofano Law for a consultation today.