Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Maine Drug Possession Charges: Penalties and Defenses

Image of unbranded capsules and tablet medications
Maine drug laws make it a crime to possess a whole host of chemicals. These include substances normally considered "drugs of abuse" like heroin, and many other medications that one needs a prescription to get. Under Maine law, a man holding crack cocaine and a man holding his wife's prescription might both be charged with the same drug possession crime. To help you better understand Maine drug possession laws, this article covers the following topics:

This post does not cover Maine drug trafficking laws but you can click that link for more. Drug trafficking can be charged as either a state or federal crime.

MAINE DRUG POSSESSION LAW

In Maine, possession of many drugs is a misdemeanor punishable by a minimum fine of $400 and maximum sentence of less than one year in jail. But the class of crime and the penalties imposed change based on the kind of drug, the amount possessed and prior drug convictions.

CLASSIFICATION OF SCHEDULED DRUGS

Under Maine Drug Law, substances are divided into schedules W, X, Y, and Z.

Schedule W includes:

  • Stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines 
  • Opiates such as Methadone, Oxycodone and Heroin 
  • some hallucinogens including LSD and MDA; and 
  • Barbiturates.

Schedule X includes:

  • some depressants 
  • many hallucinogens including Mescaline, Psilocybin, DMT 
  • Hashish; 
  • some tranquilizers including Ketamine.

Schedule Y includes:

  • Sedative and hypnotic drugs
  • Phenobarbital
  • Codeine 
  • Diazepam.

Schedule Z is a catch-all category which includes all other prescription and non prescription drugs.

MISDEMEANOR DRUG POSSESSION PENALTIES

Possession of most Schedule W or X drugs is a Class D Misdemeanor punishable by a minimum sentence of a $400 fine a maximum of $2000 in fines and 364 days in jail. Interestingly the sentence for possessing schedule W Drugs can include probation even though probation is not usually available for misdemeanors. Possession of a Schedule Y or Z drug is a Class E misdemeanor with a minimum $400 fine and maximum $1000 fine and 6 months jail.

POSSESSION OF CERTAIN DRUGS IS ALWAYS A FELONY

Possession of opiate drugs such as Heroin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone, and possession of Methamphetamine is always a class C felony charge. There is a $400 minimum fine and a maximum of $5000 in fines and 5 years in prison. Possession of Crack cocaine is a class C felony if the person had previously been convicted of drug possession or trafficking.

POSSESSING LARGER AMOUNTS OF SOME DRUGS IS A FELONY

As discussed above, possession of Schedule W drugs is normally a class D misdemeanor. However, Maine Law makes possession of larger amounts of some schedule W drugs a class B felony, punishable by $20,000 in fines and 10 years in prison. This applies to 14 grams or more of powder cocaine or methamphetamine and to 4 grams or more of crack cocaine.

MARIJUANA POSSESSION CHARGES

Marijuana possession in Maine is normally not a crime but is a civil violation if one possesses less than 2.5 ounces. The mandatory minimum fine is $350 dollars for less than 1.25 ounces and $700 for more than 1.25 ounces. If you have more than 2.5 ounces, possession becomes a crime. It's a class E misdemeanor for more than 2.5 ounces, more than 8 ounces is is class D, more than one pound is class C felony and over 20 pounds is a class B felony punishable by $20,000 in fines and 10 years in prison. Of course, Maine's medical Marijuana law permits qualified people to legally possess marijuana.

OTHER CONSEQUENCES OF DRUG CONVICTIONS

Like any criminal conviction, a conviction for drug possession shows up on a public background check. A conviction may also disqualify applicants for certain federal programs such as federal financial aid for students or federal housing and other subsidies. There is also the potential that those convicted could be classified as and "unlawful user or person addicted to a controlled substance" under 18 U.S.C. § 922(g). Federal law prohibits these and other people from possessing firearms or ammunition.

DEFENSES TO DRUG POSSESSION CHARGES

These cases are not as open and shut as people think. As with any crime, the State must prove all the elements beyond all reasonable doubt. The elements of drug possession are
  1. That the person intentionally or knowingly
  2. Possesses
  3. What they know or believe to be a scheduled drug
  4. Which is, in fact, a scheduled drug
  5. For some felony charges, that the substance is a minimum amount of the drug.
For a good lawyer, there is a lot or room for defense in there. The issues are very fact specific but often questions arise as to whether the defendant had knowledge that the substance was there, whether they had a close enough connection to the material to be in legal possession of it, and whether the laboratory analysis confirms that it is the drug and that there is a certain amount of it.

Keep in mind that these charges usually start with the police detaining someone and then seizing the drugs. That action implicates important constitutional rights. The State must also prove that the police acted legally in detaining a defendant, searching for the drugs and seizing the substance. If that can't be proven, then the evidence should not be allowed into court.

The stakes are high and a conviction will stay on your record for the rest of your life. Pleading guilty guarantees a conviction and that can't be undone. It might make sense to at least talk to an attorney before deciding how to proceed.