The National Trial Lawyers

Possession of Drugs With Intent to Distribute

Possession of illegal narcotics with intent to distribute is a very serious charge that carries potential jail time and a substantial license suspension by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Additionally, a second or subsequent conviction for possession of drugs with intent to distribute carries a mandatory state prison sentence.

Elements of Possession of Drugs with Intent to Distribute

In order to convict a defendant of possession of drugs with intent to distribute, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant:

  1. Possessed some amount of a controlled substance and intended to distribute it to another person or persons; and
  2. Did so intentionally or knowingly.

Motions to Suppress are very common in cases charging possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Ordinarily the police need to search the defendant to determine that he or she is in possession of the controlled substance. On many occasions, a police officer’s search of the defendant violates the defendant’s constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches. In these cases, Attorney Spring files and aggressively litigates motions to suppress the drugs.

Possession of Drugs with Intent to Distribute or Straight Possession?

Many of these cases turn on whether the drugs seized from the defendant were intended for personal use or for resale to somebody else. The jury is asked to determine what the defendant intended to do with the drugs. How does the jury determine the defendant’s intent?

The Commonwealth will call a drug detective to testify at trial as a “street level narcotics expert.” The detective will try to convince the jury that the defendant was planning to sell the drugs based on some or all of the following factors:

  • Packaging of the Narcotics - Drug dealers generally buy large quantities of drugs and break them down into small quantities for resale. Therefore, if a defendant is caught with a medium-sized bag of cocaine, he or she might be able to argue that the drugs were for his or her own personal use. However, if the defendant is caught with 15 individually-wrapped bags of cocaine, there is an inference that the defendant was planning to sell the smaller packages.
  • Possession of Packaging Materials -Drug dealers need materials to break down large quantities of drugs into smaller quantities. Such materials might include a digital scale (used to weigh the smaller packages of drugs) and plastic baggies.
  • Possession of Cutting Agents -Drug dealers often add a cutting agent to the drugs to increase the amount of the drug available for resale. For example, a drug dealer might have six grams of cocaine. Instead of breaking down the cocaine into six one-gram packages, the dealer will first mix the six grams of cocaine with four grams of baking soda. The dealer will then have 10 grams of diluted cocaine to sell (instead of the original six grams).
  • Possession of Multiple Pagers or Cell Phones - In order to keep in contact with their clients, drug dealers often carry more than one pager or cell phone to be constantly available.
  • Possession of Large Quantities of Cash - Drug dealing is obviously a cash business, so drug detectives take note of large quantities of cash.
  • Ledger Sheets - Drug dealers often will keep track of their clients, along with their orders and the amount of money they owe, on small sheets of paper.
  • Lack of Paraphernalia - If a defendant is found with a large amount of heroin but no needle, spoon, cotton balls, or lighter, an inference can be drawn that the defendant did not intend to shoot the heroin.

If some or all of these factors are applicable to a defendant, the prosecutor will argue that the circumstantial evidence establishes that the defendant intended to sell the drugs rather than use them personally. Of course, Attorney Spring will argue that there are innocent explanations for each of these seemingly damaging facts. Evidence such as the defendant’s medical records can establish long-term drug dependency. Attorney Spring will fully investigate each case to make the most compelling argument that the drugs were for personal use rather than distribution.

Because a conviction for possession of drugs with intent to distribute results in serious consequences, including a license suspension and the possibility of prison time, you need to be represented by an attorney with extensive experience in litigating such cases. As an assistant district attorney earlier in his career, Attorney Spring prosecuted hundreds of drug cases, from straight possession charges to trafficking. Since forming Spring & Spring, he has successfully defended hundreds of people charged with drug crimes.

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