Over the last several decades, since the “War on Drugs” began, both the federal and individual state governments have worked to pass legislation strengthening drug related laws and increasing the penalties for a violation of those laws. If you were recently arrested for a drug related offense in the State of Tennessee, you are likely facing a lengthy term of imprisonment if convicted. AS such, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your future is to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
At the Tennessee law firm of Bennett & Michael we understand that you are likely worried about the outcome of your case. You may also be frustrated trying to navigate the criminal justice system. Given the personal nature of a criminal prosecution, specific questions or concerns about your case should be discussed directly with an experienced criminal defense attorney; however, we have prepared some general answers to the most frequently asked questions relating to drug crimes and the criminal justice system. If you have additional questions or concerns, please feel free to contact the criminal defense attorneys at Bennett & Michael.
1. What kind of penalties do I face for a marijuana conviction in Nebraska?
Although marijuana is listed as a controlled substance, most states treat it differently than other controlled substances, such as cocaine or heroin. Tennessee is one of those states. Possession of a small amount (less than half an ounce) of marijuana is a misdemeanor on the first and second offense, the punishment for which is no more than one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $500. Possession for the third time, possession of larger amounts, or selling marijuana are all felony offenses that carry considerably harsher penalties for a conviction.
2. What are the penalties for possession, sale, or trafficking in other controlled substances in Tennessee?
The penalties for drug offenses that involves a controlled substance other than marijuana can vary considerably depending on a number of factors, such as:
- Whether the offense involved possession for personal use or the sale/transport of the controlled substance.
- The quantity of drugs involved
- The defendant’s previous criminal conviction (or lack there of)
- Whether the defendant cooperated with the police
- Whether there were aggravating factors such as proximity to a school or a transaction that involved minors.
3. Can I still be convicted of a crime if I had a prescription?
People often think that simply having a prescription for a controlled substance means they cannot be convicted of a crime involving that controlled substance. The reality, however, is that you could still be convicted of a crime if, for example, you were in possession of more than you should have, you sold/gave some to someone else, or the pills you had were a different dosage than what you were prescribed.
4. Can I get a conviction for a drug offense expunged in Tennessee?
Fortunately, Tennessee is one of a number of states that does offer the possibility of having a criminal conviction expunged, or erased from your public record, if you qualify. As a general rule, misdemeanor convictions for possession of a controlled substance are eligible as well as some less serious felony convictions.
5. If I was caught trafficking drugs in Tennessee will I face federal charges?
In the United States, a criminal offense can be charged at the federal level, the state level, or both. Almost all minor drug related offenses are handled in state court. Federal law enforcement agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), focus on bigger operations, such as trafficking rings that smuggle drugs in from out of the country. If you were caught with a large quantity of a controlled substance, there is a chance that the federal authorities will want to talk to you.
6. I was caught with drugs on me. Now the police want me to cooperate in order to get my charges dismissed. What should I do?
This is a common law enforcement tactic – catch a “small fish” and use him/her to get to the larger fish. There are two important reasons why you should not jump at an offer to dismiss your charges in exchange for your cooperation. First, you need a criminal defense attorney to negotiate an actual deal for you instead of just taking a police officer’s word for it. Second, there are often consequences to cooperating that you need to consider.
7. The police searched my house without my permission and found drugs. Can I get the search thrown out?
The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that a warrant be obtained before the police conduct a search and seizure of your home unless one of the narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies. Consent is the most commonly used exception; however, one of the other exception could apply. If none of the exceptions apply though, your criminal defense attorney may be able to get the search excluded and any evidence seized during the search declared to be inadmissible at trial.
8. What are some common defenses to drug charges?
Every criminal prosecution presents a unique set of facts and circumstances. There are, however, some commonly used defenses in drug cases, such as:
- The drugs aren’t the defendant’s.
- The evidence was obtained illegally.
- The informant is not reliable.
9. What are the penalties for a conviction of one of Tennessee’s drug related criminal statutes?
Like most states, Tennessee divides criminal offenses into misdemeanors and felonies, with felonies being the more serious crimes. The penalties you might face if convicted of a drug related criminal offense will depend on numerous factors and could range from a probation only sentence to a lengthy term of imprisonment. Factors such as the type of controlled substance, the amount, and your own criminal history (or lack of a history) will all contribute to the potential penalties if convicted.
10. Can an attorney get the evidence thrown out if it was seized during an illegal search of my home?
In the United States, we have certain rights guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution. One of those rights is the right against unreasonable searches and seizures found in the 4th Amendment. The 4th Amendment essentially requires the police to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, before a search and seizure can take place. The warrant requirement has been watered down considerably by the courts over the years; however, your home remains fairly well covered by the 4th Amendment warrant requirement. Unless one of the few narrow exceptions to the warrant requirement applies, the police must have a valid warrant to search your home or the search and seizure is illegal. If the drugs involved in your case were seized as a result of an illegal search, a criminal defense attorney may be able to get the drugs excluded from trial.
11. What defenses might be available to drug related charges?
Because no two cases involve the exact same facts, the defenses available in a drug related prosecution can vary tremendously. There are, however, some common defenses a drug defense lawyer might use if the facts fit. For example, claiming the drugs were not yours is an excellent defense strategy if the contraband was not found under your direct control. Another commonly used defense is to claim that the search that resulted in the seizure of the drugs involved was illegal. The best way to determine what defenses might work in your case is to speak directly to an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney.
12. If I’m charged with a misdemeanor do I really need an attorney?
One of the biggest mistakes defendants make is to underestimate the ramifications of a conviction for a drug related offense, even if it is only a misdemeanor. While your judicial sentence may not be particularly harsh, the non-judicial consequences of any drug related conviction can be far reaching and long lasting. You might face professional discipline if you hold a license, such as a nurse, a teacher, or even a real estate agent. You might also loose the right to petition for a change of status if you are a non-citizen or your conviction could be used against you in a custody case. Regardless of the level of the offense involved in your case, you need to at least consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to determine if you can avoid a conviction.
13. If I had a prescription, how can I be charged with possession or distribution of a controlled substance?
Not all that long ago, giving a friend a pain pill, or anxiety drug out of your own prescription was not a big deal. In fact, it was fairly commonplace. Today, however, doing so could result in your arrested and conviction for a felony drug offense. Possession of a single pill for which you do not have a valid, active prescription could be cause for an arrest and conviction for possession of a controlled substance. Transferring that pill, either given as a gift or sold, could result in an arrest for the sale of a controlled substance. Having a prescription may be a defense; however, not if the controlled substance in question is not exactly what the prescription is for or if you had more than what you were prescribed. If you did have a prescription, do not assume that it is an automatic defense.
14. If I was transporting, or “smuggling,” drugs, does that mean I will end up in federal prison?
If you know much about the prison system, you probably want to avoid doing federal time. If your case involves “smuggling” drugs across the border (country or state), you are wise to be worried about your case becoming a federal case. As a general rule, however, if you were arrested at the state level, your case will remain in state court unless it involves a considerable quantity of a controlled substance or there is another distinguishing characteristic about your case that prompts the federal authorities to intervene.
If you are currently facing drug related criminal charges in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense lawyer at Bennett & Michael as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-410-2454 to schedule your appointment.