Good criminal defense attorneys fight Nevada narcotics charges with a two-pronged approach: 1) finding evidence favorable to the defendant while discrediting the state’s evidence, and 2) revealing how the police violated the defendant’s constitutional rights. If the District Attorney sees its case is too weak to sustain a conviction, the drug charges could be substantially reduced or dismissed completely.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. How do I fight Nevada drug charges?
- 2. What if the police committed misconduct?
- 3. Can drug charges get reduced or dismissed?
- 4. Do I really need an attorney?
1. How do I fight Nevada drug charges?
The most effective defense strategies against narcotics charges always turn on the specific charge and circumstances of the case. Typical evidence includes:
- Eyewitness testimony;
- Recorded communications to and from the defendant;
- Photographs and surveillance video; and/or
- The drugs themselves
In every case, prosecutors have the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, criminal defense attorneys conduct a thorough investigation in pursuit of every weak link in the state’s case to raise this reasonable doubt.
Two common defenses to Nevada charges for possession of a controlled substance (NRS 453.336) are:
- The defendant was never legally “in possession” of the drugs; or
- The defendant did not “knowingly” possess the drugs.
See our related article on marijuana possession.
1.1.1. No possession
In order to be in legal possession of narcotics, a person has to own or exert physical control over them. Simply being in the same room as a drug does not mean the person is in possession of it.1
Example: Mary attends a Henderson house party, where the host distributes ecstasy pills. Mary never touches the pills. The police then raid the party and arrest all the guests for possession of drugs. But unless prosecutors can prove Mary owned, shared, or was otherwise in control of any of the pills, the possession charge should be dropped.
The fact Mary knew the ecstasy pill were there does not put her in possession of them. She would have had to have touched them, stored them, or bought them to come into possession of them.
1.1.2. No knowing
A key element of possession is knowledge that the drugs are there.2 A person can be near drugs and not realize it.
Example: Julio and Juan are roommates. One day Julio hides cocaine underneath the floorboards. Acting on a tip, the police search the house and find the drugs. They arrest both Julio and Juan for joint possession of cocaine. But if prosecutors cannot prove that Juan knew the cocaine was there, the case against him should be dismissed.
Lack of knowledge is also a defense in drug possession cases where someone planted drugs in the defendant’s purse, car, or home without their knowledge.
1.2. Possession with intent to sell
A Nevada charge for possession for sale (NRS 453.337) can get reduced to simple possession if prosecutors fail to prove that the defendant was planning to sell the drugs. Typical evidence prosecutors rely on to show intention to sell are:
- Large amounts of drugs, more than one person would need for just recreational use;
- Drugs divided in baggies or containers, indicating they are “ready to sell”;
- Lots of cash, presumably proceeds from an illegal drug sale;
- A firearm, presumably for the defendant to use in case a drug deal goes bad; and/or
- No drug paraphernalia in the vicinity, indicating that the defendant was not a recreational user3
But even these indicators can have innocent explanations. Many recreational drug users carry guns and cash without being dealers. And especially during COVID-19, many recreational drug users “stock up” to minimize social interactions and transmission risks.
In these cases, criminal defense attorneys would stress that the state’s evidence is all circumstantial and does not directly implicate the defendant. If prosecutors see that they probably would not win a guilty verdict at trial, they may be willing to lessen or drop the charge.
See our related article on marijuana possession for the purpose of sale.
1.3. Selling or manufacturing
Depending on the case, two potential defenses in Nevada to selling or making drugs (NRS 453.321) include:
- Mistaken identity; or
- False accusations
1.3.1. Mistaken identity
Drug deals often occur under the cover of night between people concealed with masks and with no photographic evidence. And it is not unusual for police to arrest the wrong person, or for an innocent person to be picked out of a lineup.
In these cases, criminal defense attorneys would search for alibis and other evidence – such as GPS records – placing the defendant away from the drug deal. If the D.A. cannot show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the one who sold, made, or distributed the drugs, then criminal charges should not stand.
1.3.2. False accusations
It is also not unusual for people to falsely accused others of drug crimes out of anger, revenge, or a misunderstanding. In these cases, defense attorneys would investigate the accusers in attempt to impeach their credibility. If prosecutors see the accusers had motivations to lie and would not stand up to cross-examination at trial, they may drop the charge entirely.
Trafficking (NRS 453.3385) in Nevada comprises, possessing, selling, or making drugs if the drugs’ weight exceeds a certain amount. Therefore, criminal defense attorneys would try to show that the police erred when quantifying the drugs, and the weight falls short of the trafficking threshold.4 Perhaps the evidence will show that either:
- The scales the police used to weigh the drugs were defective;
- The police mistakenly weighed the same drugs more than once; and/or
- The police mistakenly weighed drugs from another case and attributed them to the defendant
Prosecutors may then agree to reduce the drug trafficking charge to a less serious narcotics offense. And if the defense team can show that the defendant never possessed the drugs, lacked knowledge of them, or was otherwise falsely accused, then the entire case could be dismissed.
See our related article on trafficking marijuana (NRS 453.339).
2. What if the police committed misconduct?
Police misconduct is a potential defense to any Nevada drug charge. In every case, criminal defense attorneys investigate the police’s actions in search of instances where they cut corners, compromised evidence, or even broke the law to get the defendant in trouble. These mistakes could be enough to get drug charges reduced or thrown out completely.
2.1. Illegal searches
All police searches require a valid warrant or a lawful reason not to get a warrant. If it appears the police in a drug case found evidence through an illegal search, then the criminal defense attorneys would file a motion to suppress. This asks the court to disregard (suppress) any evidence uncovered from the unlawful search.5
If the judge grants the motion to suppress and tosses out the illegally-obtained evidence, then the prosecution’s case may be left with too little proof to sustain a guilty verdict. This could prompt the D.A. to reduce the charges or drop the case entirely.
Entrapment is an illegal law enforcement practice where police induce a person into committing a crime that the person is not predisposed to commit.6 Entrapment typically occurs in undercover drug stings.
Example: An undercover policeman at a bar hears Harriet tell a friend that she has methamphetamine in her purse that she plans to use later. The undercover officer later corners Harriet and asks to buy the meth. Harriet says it is not for sale. Then the undercover cop threatens to shoot her if she does not sell. Frightened, Harriet hands over the meth. Then the undercover policeman breaks cover and arrests her.
Here, the police committed entrapment. Harriet was not predisposed to sell any drugs. It was only after the police threatened her that Harriet agreed to break the law. The prosecutor should drop the drug sale charge.
2.3. Coerced confessions
Police are not allowed to torture suspects to draw out a confession. And police must read suspects their Miranda Rights before subjecting them to custodial interrogation.
If a defendant did not freely and voluntarily confess to the drug crime, then the criminal defense attorneys would ask the court to disregard (suppress) the confession as evidence.7 If the judge agrees, the D.A may decide to drop the charge for lack of proof.
3. Can drug charges get reduced or dismissed?
In many Nevada criminal cases, prosecutors are willing to plea bargain drug charges down in order to avoid going to trial. And by relying on various defense strategies (discussed above), criminal defense attorneys may be able to get the charges dismissed outright.
Note that first-time offenders suffering from addiction may have the opportunity to avoid a prison sentence and drug conviction by completing Drug Court, an intensive rehabilitation program. Upon successful completion, the drug charge gets dismissed and sealed from the defendant’s criminal record.8 This means it will not show up on future background checks, which greatly increases the defendant’s employment opportunities.
In higher level drug cases, some defendants may be able to get their charges dismissed or reduced by agreeing to act as an informant for the police.
4. Do I really need an attorney?
Yes. Public defenders do not have the time or resources to search for favorable evidence and to investigate how the police may have violated the defendant’s rights. And in practice, Nevada prosecutors tend to offer better plea deals to defendants who are represented by counsel.
The consequences of a drug crime conviction go far beyond fines or imprisonment. They mar defendants’ criminal records, automatically disqualifying them from numerous potential jobs. A good Las Vegas drug crimes lawyer may be able to persuade the D.A. to lessen or dismiss the charges, often without a trial.
Arrested for a drug offense in Clark County or elsewhere in the state of Nevada? Phone our experienced Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers. Our law office will schedule you in for a free phone consultation. Whether it is your first offense or a subsequent offense, our goal is to fight to avoid jail time while keeping your record clear.
If you are an immigrant, remember that violating Nevada drug laws may be deportable. Our drug defense attorneys fight to get your charges dismissed or reduced to a non-deportable offense to safeguard your resident status.
We also fight against every type of misdemeanor and felony criminal charge, from DUI to domestic violence. We practice personal injury law in addition to immigration and criminal defense law. And our legal team appears in state law and federal law courts throughout Nevada.
Disclaimer: Past results do not guarantee future results.
- NRS 453.336.
- NRS 453.336.
- See NRS 453.337; NRS 453.338.
- NRS 453.3385.
- See Howe v. State, (1996) 112 Nev. 458, 916 P.2d 153.
- See Froggatt v. State, (1970) 86 Nev. 267, 467 P.2d 1011.
- See Belcher v. State, (2020) 464 P.3d 1013, 136 Nev. Adv. Rep. 31.
- NRS 453.3363.