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Prince William County Drug Cases

Most drug cases begin in the General District Court and remain there if they are misdemeanors. If felony charges are involved and the General District Court certifies that there is probable cause supporting the charges, then the case will be moved to Circuit Court where there is jurisdiction to decide felonies. Every so often, felony charges get directly charged to someone in Circuit Court through a grand jury indictment. The General District Court will not be involved in these cases.

For help with fighting Prince William County drug cases, speak to a criminal defense attorney. An aggressive lawyer could fight on your behalf for a positive resolution to your charges.

Are Drug Cases Typically Bench Trials or Jury Trials?

With some big exceptions, drug cases are typically resolved with bench trials because judges are more open-minded about legal issues in drug cases than most jurors would be. This is a result of their own legal training and the perspective that they gain from presiding over drug cases on a daily or weekly basis. Sentencing options may be less risky and more diverse with bench trials for drugs. Jurors are not able to suspend any jail time and do not receive individualized sentencing guidelines the way judges do.

In Prince William County, first offenses in a criminal case are typically treated much less severely than second or subsequent drug offenses. If an accused is eligible for a First Offender Program, the court will typically offer it to the accused as a matter of course. An attorney could help a defendant understand which penalties they may face in court.

How Long Could a Drug Case Last?

Drug cases in Prince William County typically take between six months and over a year to resolve unless they are very minor in nature. This is primarily due to the current backlog at the Virginia Department of Forensic Science. It may take a number of months for testing, weighing, and returning drugs, and the laboratory experts who need to testify in court have limited availability.

Constitutional Issues in Drug Cases

The most common constitutional issue that arises in drug cases is the right to confrontation under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that defendants have a constitutional right to cross-examine the laboratory expert who offers a particular lab report about the chemical identity of a substance if that report is being introduced against the defendant at trial. Virginia Law allows for the prosecution to introduce such lab reports without bringing a witness from the state laboratory if the defendant does not object within a certain amount of time ahead of the trial.

Bringing an expert witness from the Virginia Department of Forensic Science could be very burdensome for the prosecution, and they try to avoid that obligation in various ways. Some drug cases may be won by making a constitutional objection to the absence of a confrontable witness in relation to a lab report if the objection has been properly preserved before trial by the defense.

Another common constitutional issue in drug cases is whether the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches or seizures was violated by the police when they recovered the drug. Police must always have a sufficient level of justification to suspect the presence of a drug before they search a person or search within a person’s property. Officers may get overzealous in searching for drugs because drugs are commonplace in modern society no matter who or where they are searching. There are very specific constitutional requirements that are often tested in drug cases related to the use of drug dogs, search warrants, confidential informants, pre-arrest frisking, and automobile searches.

How These Issues May Impact Prince William County Drug Cases

Each of these constitutional issues may the potential to make some or all of the evidence against the accused unable to be used by the prosecution at trial. The effective results of a successful constitutional challenge may either be the court granting the prosecution more time to fix the problem or dismissing the case outright for lack of sufficient evidence. Reach out to an attorney for advice in fighting Prince William County drug cases. Legal counsel may be able to help you avoid the legal and social repercussions of a conviction.

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