September 21st, 2023

Drug Possession in Pennsylvania: Understanding the Charges and Legal Defenses

Being charged with a crime is stressful, and it can be challenging to understand the nuances of drug charges and potential defenses. Drug laws in Pennsylvania are complex. Our criminal defense lawyers at Gross McGinley, LLP, have a deep understanding of drug laws in Pennsylvania, as well as federal drug laws. We help you understand your rights and the charges you’re facing. Our attorneys develop effective defense strategies that protect your interests.

Types of Drug Possession in Pennsylvania

A host of controlled substances are illegal to possess in Pennsylvania. Whether you’re facing charges for possession of marijuana, heroin, cocaine, unauthorized prescription drugs, or other controlled substances, courts take it very seriously. Depending on the circumstances, you could be charged with a misdemeanor or felony. The severity of the charges usually depends on the type and amount of drug, whether you intended to distribute it, where the alleged crime occurred, your prior criminal record, and other factors.

Simple possession typically is charged when someone is found with a small or moderate amount of a controlled substance.  Although it is charged as a misdemeanor, a conviction still carries harsh penalties such as fines, prison time, and suspension of driver’s license. Possession of drug paraphernalia also may be charged if you’re found with items used for the consumption, manufacturing, or distribution of drugs. 

Possession with intent to deliver (PWID) is charged when someone possesses drugs not for personal use, but to distribute to others. This can include manufacturing, cultivating, distributing, selling, or trafficking illegal drugs. In some cases, a defendant may face federal charges for this offense. Selling or distributing drugs near a school, in the presence of children, or while carrying a firearm can result in significant prison time, tens of thousands of dollars in fines, and a permanent stain on your record.

It’s important to note that possessing marijuana is still illegal in Pennsylvania. However, in jurisdictions such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, possessing a small amount is now a civil matter that involves a fine instead of criminal charges.

Defenses for Drug Possession in Pennsylvania

Many different defenses can be employed in a possession case, and a drug crime lawyer will tailor your defense according to the specific circumstances. Common defenses include:

  • Lack of knowledge – Arguing that you were unaware of the drugs being in your possession can sometimes be a viable defense.
  • Unlawful search and seizure – The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution affords you the right to protection from illegal search and seizure. For example, if a police officer pulls you over for speeding and searches your car without probable cause or consent, any evidence they obtain may be inadmissible. If you believe law enforcement searched you or your property illegally, make sure to tell your criminal defense attorney, who may be able to challenge the evidence in court.
  • Entrapment – If law enforcement coerced you into committing a drug crime you otherwise wouldn’t have committed, entrapment can be a valid defense.
  • Chain of custody issues – If there were issues with the way a controlled substance was handled by law enforcement and others after seizure, your attorney may dispute the integrity of the evidence in court.
  • Misidentification of substances – Challenging the accuracy of testing or arguing that a drug was misidentified may work as an element in a strong defense.
  • Valid prescription – If you had a valid prescription for the drugs at the time they were seized, charges may be dismissed or reduced.

How Our Drug Possession Lawyers Can Help

Hiring a defense lawyer with a track record of success in drug crime cases is crucial. A criminal defense attorney can assess your case and advise you of your options, including whether it may be in your best interest to negotiate a plea deal. If your case goes to trial, the attorney will guide you through the legal process every step of the way and help protect your rights. A seasoned criminal defense lawyer will know how to build a solid defense strategy and work toward the best possible outcome for your case.

Contact Our Defense Attorneys If You Face Drug Possession Charges

Facing drug possession charges is daunting, but you don’t have to go it alone. For more than 40 years, our team at Gross McGinley, LLP, has provided clients in Pennsylvania with forward-thinking legal representation. We provide a wide range of legal services, including criminal defense, family law, business law, litigation, estate planning, business and employment law, real estate, and more. To schedule a consultation with a drug possession attorney, contact us or call 610-820-5450.

The content found in this resource is for informational reference use only and is not considered legal advice. Laws at all levels of government change frequently and the information found here may be or become outdated. It is recommended to consult your attorney for the most up-to-date information regarding current laws and legal matters.