Henrico County drug cases are typically bench trials. In many cases, they are negotiated and various plea agreements or diversionary programs are recommended. From the charging of the offense all the way through the sentencing, there is a general process which can be expected. A Henrico County drug lawyer is invaluable in guiding an individual facing these charges through the case and trial process.
Typically, drug cases in Henrico are charged as a result of a traffic stop. An individual will be pulled over and the officers will see signs of impairment, drug use, or drug paraphernalia. They will find the drugs through a search of the vehicle or the person. Some cases develop out of warrants that are served on properties.
What has changed over the years is how the courts treat these charges. The courts treat marijuana much differently than in prior years. Marijuana is seen as a softer drug, so it does not receive the punishment or the priority of harder drugs, like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine.
These cases are heard in the Henrico Courts Building, which is off East Parham Road. If it is a misdemeanor case, it will be tried in the General District Court. If it is a felony case, there is a two-step process with a preliminary hearing in General District Court before going before a grand jury. The cases are certified to Circuit Court where individuals can be tried before either a judge or a jury.
A drug case can take several months to a year depending on what type of case it is. A misdemeanor is usually tried within 60 to 90 days, depending on how quickly the Department of Forensic Science can provide a certificate of analysis for the drug. A felony case will usually take from six months to a year, sometimes longer, depending on how many witnesses and the amount of drugs involved.
In a drug case, the prosecutors need to show the person had possession of the drug, knew where the drug was, or should have known where the drug was. They also need to show the person distributed or sold the drug in a distribution case, or that the person possessed such a large amount or possessed it with tools of the trade, like baggies and scales, that it was their intent to distribute. They also need to show how the drugs were found and that the drugs were found after a valid and legal search.
In drug cases, the state will present evidence from the law enforcement as to how they found the drugs or how they came to interact with the individual charged. They will present evidence of what was found after a search. They will present evidence from confidential informants or undercover officers about the sale or distribution of the drug. They will also present audio or visual evidence of distribution, if they have it. In addition, the state will present evidence of what the drug is through a certificate of analysis that is done by Department of Forensic Science.
Several issues are often contested in drug cases. The first is probable cause for search and seizure issues around the Fourth Amendment. Typically, what is challenged is how the drugs were found and if the officers had probable cause to conduct the search of the person or their property. A person does not have to consent if an officer stops them on the street. In most cases, it is recommended they do not consent to have themselves or their property searched. However, if an officer can show probable cause or reasonable articulable suspicion, they can conduct a search without consent. How a warrant was obtained is also challenged. Another contested issue is witnesses that may be used in a distribution case or a conspiracy case, particularly if they are informants and they have a prior criminal record. Lastly, the testing of the drugs and/or the chain of custody of the drug is challenged. The state needs to prove that the drugs were in their possession and sealed throughout the entire testing process. Sometimes the testing process is challenged and other times how the drugs were handled after the arrest is contested.
Sentencing for drug cases in Henrico can vary greatly. For first offense or abuse issues, rather than intent to sell or distribute the drugs, courts and prosecutors usually prefer treatment versus jail. For an issue with multiple prior offenses or aggravating factors, like possession near a school or sale to minors, the prosecutors and the courts will move toward active incarceration, which can range from several months to several years.
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