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The Process of Virginia Drug Appeals

When appealing a Virginia drug case, an attorney is going to look at multiple factors. This includes the way the evidence was obtained by law enforcement, whether or not it violated the defendant’s Constitutional rights, and whether the evidence chain of custody was compromised in any manner. Depending on these and other factors, the case could be remanded or even acquitted. If someone appealing their drug case suspects that their rights were violated in the initial investigation or that the evidence was not handled appropriately, contacting an experienced Virginia drug appeals attorney is an excellent course of action for them to take. A drug appeals attorney will be able to identify whether or not any violations occurred, inform the client of their rights, and make the best possible decisions for proceeding with the appeal.

How Violating the Fourth & Fifth Amendments Impacts Evidence

Constitutional violations by law enforcement, if they result in the defendant being prejudiced, are presumptively subject to what is known as the “exclusionary rule.” This rule means that evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution is tainted and must be subject to exclusion in criminal prosecution of the defendant. There are many exceptions to this rule, and a lot of the time law enforcement will claim that the evidence obtained could have been obtained by other means or could have been obtained through exceptions to the Fourth or Fifth Amendments, for example.

But, it is important that (A) the trial attorney at that time of trial be attuned to these issues and raise the objections and file their motions to strike evidence or suppress evidence, and (B) that if a trial court makes a ruling on a Constitutional issue that is questionable or that contains some error, a Virginia drug appellate attorney be able to examine the record and fully brief an appeal for the Court of Appeals on the issue.

Evidence Chain of Custody in a Virginia Drug Appeals Case

The chain of custody is essentially the Commonwealth’s obligation to account for the location and the maintenance of the drug between the time that controlled substances are seized during an arrest and the time of their testing and trial. The Commonwealth has to follow its statutory obligations to properly maintain the evidence and keep track of how it is handled.

If the Commonwealth takes shortcuts or handles evidence in a way that does not in conform with this obligation, it can give rise to an appealable issue. The evidence could be inadmissible and if it is admitted despite a problem with the chain of custody, that can give rise to appeal.

Possible Results if Evidence is Suppressed on Appeal

The most likely outcome when a suppression motion is granted on appeal will be to remand the case back to the trial court, usually either the General District Court or the Circuit Court, with instructions to re-initiate the case without the inclusion of the stricken evidence. If it is a case involving drugs and the drugs are what is suppressed, more often than not, that would result in the end of the prosecution.

Without that evidence, the case will not be able to go forward. But at the worst, it can provide an individual with more leverage to seek a better deal or to go forward to a new trial with a better likelihood of success. Sometimes, if the Court of Appeals determines that the suppression of certain evidence renders the remaining evidence insufficient by law for a conviction, the Court of Appeals can directly reverse the conviction and enter a judgment of acquittal, but this is less common than remanding to the trial court.

What Happens to a Case If There Are Constitutional Violations

Drug appeal cases involving Constitutional violations are significantly more likely to be heard by the Court of Appeals than cases involving other issues. Having a Virginia drug appeals lawyer who is familiar with these issues, especially in the Fourth Amendment context, is essential because an imperfect appeal in a case involving constitutional issues is really a wasted opportunity for a defendant who may have been harmed by such an error in the trial court.

Treatment of Marijuana v. Other Controlled Substances

In Virginia, possession of marijuana is a class 1 misdemeanor, which means that it’s punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. But more often than not, it is not punished as such. There are exceptions obviously depending on who is possessing it. For example, an inmate in a correctional institute who possesses it will be charged with a felony.

But the primary difference in the way it’s treated, aside from just being classified differently from the other class 1 controlled substances, is that for people charged with first offenses of marijuana possession, there is an option for deferred dismissal whereby the defendant engages in certain drug diversion programs. After doing so, there’s a possibility that their charge will be dismissed at the end of the period of probation.

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