Defenses in New York Drug Possession Cases
The crime of drug possession means that a person willfully holds or has physical control of an illegal substance, such as methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine or unlawfully obtained prescription drugs. Depending on the type of drug and the quantity involved, possession charges can lead to serious criminal penalties including fines and prison time.
Although being caught with drugs in hand may seem like the case against you is incontestable, there are defenses available. Immediately upon being arrested and charged, you need to seek an experienced criminal lawyer who can begin crafting effective ways to protect your legal and constitutional rights.
Defenses can be raised in drug possession cases to challenge the elements of the alleged crime and/or the manner of police conduct before and after the arrest. The following defenses are among the most common:
- Illegal search and seizure — The state constitution as well as state statutes require law enforcement officers to follow strict procedures when searching people and property for drugs or other illegal contraband. This includes having probable cause to conduct the search or to stop a suspect. Proof of violations committed in the course of a search or arrest can lead to suppression of the drug evidence seized and to the dismissal of the charges.
- Lack of intent — The burden is on the prosecution to prove the possession of illegal drugs was willful. A defendant might not know the drug was in his or her possession. The substance might be found in a vehicle that was borrowed or in which the defendant was only a passenger. Or the substance might be discovered in a house where the defendant was a guest. Still another possibility is that the drugs were planted on the defendant by another individual.
- Chain of custody breaches — Drug evidence must be handled and stored carefully to protect it from tampering, from the date it is seized to when it is tested and placed in an evidence locker. The police must be able to demonstrate that this was done. Any break in the chain of custody could mean the evidence is inadmissible in your case.
- Insufficient quantity — Penalties for drug possession vary according to the quantity of the controlled substances found by police. A defense attorney can challenge the amount or the weight of the drugs to potentially reduce the level of the charges, or seek dismissal, depending on the circumstances.
- Medical marijuana use — It is legal to possess marijuana in New York for authorized medical purposes, but some officers will still make an arrest. A defendant can avoid a conviction by presenting evidence that they obtained the drug based upon a doctor’s signed recommendation.
The Law Offices of Maurice Verrillo, P.C. represents clients charged with drug possession in Rochester and upstate New York. We will strive to protect your rights and to obtain the best outcome possible in your case. Contact us online or call us at 585-563-1134 for a free consultation.