What is Possession with Intent to Distribute? How Do the Fairfax County Police Investigate Such Cases? And What Happens in Court?
Possession with Intent to Distribute is a category of drug crime. It can either be a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the drug involved and the quantity alleged.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana (18.2-248.1)
Possession with Intent to Distribute Marijuana is a Class 1 Misdemeanor meaning it can be punished by up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2500. However, if the amount of marijuana in question is more than ½ of an ounce, the charge is a Felony. Quantities between ½ ounce and 5 pounds are a class 5 felony (punishment from no jail time up to 10 years) and quantities of more than 5 pounds can be punished by between 5 and 30 years in prison.
Under the law any intent to give or distribute weed can be charged under the statute. That means that it doesn’t necessarily have to be for sale. You can be charged with PWID even if you were just planning on sharing with friends. However, if you were just planning to share and not make a profit there are significant defenses available and a reduction of the charge is very possible. Essentially the law makes a distinction between marijuana that was for personal use and marijuana that was planned to be used by others.
Possession with Intent to Distribute Schedule I or II Drugs (18.2-248)
It is illegal to manufacture, give, distribute, sell or give any drug classified as Schedule I or II narcotic. This schedule includes many hard drugs, including but not limited to: Cocaine, Heroin, Ecstasy and many other recreational drugs. Similar to Marijuana this statute regulates the possession of any of these drugs for anything other than personal use. These cases are punishable by a sentence of between 5 years and 40 years in prison. However, the judge can suspend some or all of the sentence.
There are also defenses if the distribution was for an accommodation, which means that you were planning to provide it to others but not for a profit. If that can be shown, then the charge is reduced to a Class 5 felony which means it is punishable by no jail time up to 10 years in prison, as opposed to the harsher punishment outlined above.
Fairfax County Police Investigations of PWID Cases
The Fairfax County Police employ a number of different tactics to investigate PWID cases. The police department will frequently monitor ads on Craiglist and other similar sites for people who are advertising to share Marijuana or are looking for others who would like to smoke together. The police may then pose as a pretty girl or other interested party and set up a time to meet. When the suspect agrees to meet at some location, they are then arrested. Undercover officers may use other tactics to try to learn about individuals who are looking to share marijuana. In these cases, the amount of marijuana to be shared is usually very small, maybe only a few joints. The police will then use the seized drugs and any communications including email or text to use to prove that the suspect was intending to give or sell the small quantity. While these cases are technically PWID, the small amount will frequently lead to a reduction in the charge. This is especially common if the person has no prior record.
There are also cases, where the police will have been posing undercover as a buyer of drugs for some period of time. They will document all conversations and purchases they have with the potential suspect. Once they have gathered what they believe to be sufficient evidence to prove their case they will arrest the seller. These cases may involve hand to hand sales and/or controlled buys with Confidential Informants. In these cases the evidence is far more damning as they have actually seen the suspect sell the drug for a profit.
There are also times when the police will learn about a suspect from other means, sometimes even accidentally. This could be a search of a home for other reasons or even a stop of a vehicle for a traffic violation. If the police then find a large quantity of drugs in the car or home, they will usually question the suspect about the narcotics. If the suspect confesses to distributing the drug that will likely be strong evidence of the suspect’s intent.
Resolution of PWID Cases in Fairfax County Courts
The intent part of any drug case can be very difficult to prove and if there is not substantial evidence can result in a dismissal or reduction of the charge. Often police will have to rely on circumstantial evidence to prove what a person planned to do with the drugs. Large quantities of money, bill counters, plastic baggies or other tools of the drug trade can all be used to try to establish that a person was planning to sell the drugs. The quantity is also a factor that is used in many cases. It will obviously be easier for the government to prove that a person was planning to sell if they are caught with an amount of the drug that greatly exceeds what would usually be classified for personal use. However, the police and government have the burden of showing that the quantity was not purchased that way. Even if a suspect is caught with a number of baggies of marijuana or cocaine, the Prosecutor will have to prove to the judge that it was set up that way to be sold instead of simply purchased that way by the Defendant. This fact of law typically provides a strong defense to many of these cases.
By far, the most damning evidence in most cases are statements made by the suspect. If you admit to the police that you were planning to sell the drug it will be difficult if not impossible to convince a judge or jury that the drugs were just for personal use. Like all criminal cases, there may be Constitutional issues that preclude the use of those statements if they were seized unlawfully. Statements may also be excluded if Miranda rights weren’t properly administered, although it is important to remember that Miranda doesn’t always apply simply because you are talking to the Police. The law of search and seizure is complicated and applies to many if not all drug cases. The bottom line is that if you are ever suspected or believe you are being investigated for any drug crime you should call a lawyer immediately and not make any statements without having a lawyer present.
In conclusion, Possession With Intent can be one of the most serious types of drug crimes and one of the most serious criminal allegations possible. However, they are also a type that may have significant defenses which can result in dismissal or reduction of the charges. More than almost any other type of crime the end result will vary on a case by case basis.