Being arrested for a crime does not necessarily mean you will be convicted. Often we can help you get charges reduced or dismissed, and avoid jail and a criminal record.
In criminal law cases, “intent to distribute” narcotics can be proven with direct or with circumstantial evidence.
Occasionally, law enforcement will have direct evidence, such as
Most cases rely on circumstantial evidence, however, such as
In order to secure a conviction for the offense, prosecutors and law enforcement pursuing a charge of drug possession with intent to sell have to prove that intent beyond a reasonable doubt. They can do this with either:
Generally, that evidence does not require proof that the illegal drugs were for sale. It is enough to show that the defendant intended to distribute or deliver them, even when it was not in exchange for anything of value.1 This is why the drug offense is known under some states’ criminal law as:
Preventing law enforcement from proving this element of the possession charge is crucial. Successfully raising a legal defense can avoid a costly criminal conviction. These convictions are generally felony charges that carry several years in prison, often with a mandatory minimum sentence.
Challenging the prosecutor’s evidence in a drug case is something that a criminal defense lawyer from a local law office can do.
Direct evidence of the defendant’s intent to sell a controlled substance shows the defendant’s intent to do so, without the need for inference. It shows the defendant acting in furtherance of his or her intent to sell the controlled substance.
Relatively few cases have direct evidence of an intent to sell.
Most criminal charges rely on circumstantial evidence of the defendant’s intent to sell a controlled substance. Circumstantial evidence is a sign that the defendant intended to sell the drugs, but requires an inference to do so.
Examples of circumstantial evidence of an intent to sell are:
None of these pieces of evidence, by itself, necessarily proves the defendant’s intent. But prosecutors will argue that the “totality of the circumstances” paints the picture of someone who intended to sell the drugs.
Just because law enforcement only has circumstantial evidence that the defendant intended to sell the drugs does not mean that their case is weak. Most convictions for these drug crimes rely solely on circumstantial evidence.
Defendants can raise certain legal defenses to challenge or explain any evidence of their intent to sell a controlled substance. Some common ones are:
Some of these defenses are complete defenses – if successful, they lead to an acquittal. Others are incomplete, and will only reduce the severity of the drug charges.
For example, arguing that the defendant did not intend to sell the drugs because they were for his or her personal use is an incomplete defense when the controlled substance at issue is illegal to possess, like methamphetamine, LSD, or cocaine. In this case, a successful defense would doom the charge for possession with intent to sell, but would admit to the lesser offense of simple possession of an illegal substance. While it still leads to a conviction, the reduction is significant. The possession of drugs is often a misdemeanor, which carries a prison sentence of under a year. Furthermore, if it was the defendant’s first offense, he or she may be eligible for a drug diversion program. These programs focus on treatment, rather than jail time. If the conviction was for a subsequent offense, diversion is generally not an option.
Establishing an attorney-client relationship with a criminal defense attorney from a reputable law firm is the best way to know which legal defense would be best to raise in your case.
A controlled substance is a drug or other chemical compound that is regulated by law. Both state and federal laws regulate these substances, though many state laws are based on the U.S. Controlled Substances Act.
In California, possession of a drug with the intent to sell or distribute it is prohibited by Health and Safety Code 11351 HS. To prove this offense, prosecutors have to show the following elements of the crime:
Note that the defendant did not need to intend to sell the drugs him- or herself. Prosecutors only have to show that the defendant intended for someone to sell the drugs.3
A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.
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