Connecticut criminal charges for possession of illegal drugs are extremely serious. There are numerous laws on the books and many substances – including marijuana over a minimal amount – remain illegal to use recreationally.
While some mandatory minimums for non-violent drug possession charges have been eliminated in the state, that does not mean if arrested you are not facing jail time. It simply means that the judge presiding over your case is not forced to send you to jail for a certain amount of time. In fact, the judge is still free to do so if you are found guilty and he or she feels it is an appropriate sentence under Connecticut’s laws.
There is a big difference in Connecticut criminal law between being charged with straight possession of narcotics or hallucinogens, and being charged with possession with intent to sell (PWITS). To be charged with straight possession of narcotics in Connecticut under C.G.S. § 21a-279 (click here for the full text of the statute), you need to be caught or suspected of possessing or controlling any quantity of any narcotic substance. These substances include:
It is important to note that marijuana is excluded from this crime.
A first offense for a Possession of Narcotics charge under C.G.S. § 21-279 is a felony and is punishable by up to 5 years in jail (10 years for a second offense) probation, plus fines ranging between $2000 and $5000. Even worse, if you are caught simply possessing and not selling narcotics within 1500 feet of an elementary or high school (public or private), licensed day care center, or public housing project, then additional mandatory time is tacked on which cannot be suspended or reduced by a prosecutor or judge.
While the penalties are stiff, there are an array of defenses available to a person accused of drug and narcotics possession in Connecticut, addiction being a key and critical defense. So if you are charged with Narcotics Possession under § 21a-279, it is strongly recommended to consult with a top Connecticut criminal lawyer to learn how you can aggressively defend yourself against these charges.
Unfortunately for people battling drug addiction, Connecticut lawmakers dialed up the penalties for people who are caught selling drugs. This is called Possession With Intent to Sell (“PWITS”). To the surprise of many of our clients, you can actually be charged with PWITS in Connecticut even if you are not actually caught in the act of selling drugs but are discovered with large amounts of drugs in your possession or control.
One does not even have to be selling drugs to be charged with Possession with Intent to Sell. Connecticut law assumes and infers just from the amount in your possession that you are a drug dealer. Additionally, if you have baggies, packaging materials or containers that suggest you are distributing (such as plastic baggies with any form of graphic logos on them), then the police can charge you with PWITS. This crime is codified in C.G.S. § 21a-277 (click here for the statute) and forbids anyone from manufacturing, distributing, selling, prescribing, and transporting narcotics, controlled substances, and hallucinogens. Again, this crime does not include marijuana.
The penalties under 21a-277(a) for felony possession of narcotics and hallucinogens with intent to sell in Connecticut are severe—up to 15 years in jail and $50,000 fine for a first offense; 30 years in jail and $100,000 for a second conviction, an additional 30 year terms and $250,000 fines for additional convictions. The penalties under 21a-277(b) for felony possession of intent to sell any other narcotics are slightly less harsh, calling for up to 7 years in jail and $25,000 for a first offense, and a maximum 15 years prison and $100,000 fine for subsequent convictions.
One of the legal statutory loopholes in this particular statute which is helpful to top Stamford criminal attorneys is the fact that this particular drug statute does not call for mandatory minimum jail sentences. Top drug lawyers in Fairfield County will often argue for felony drug charges to be reduced to 21a-277(a) and 21a-277(b) so that their drug clients can avoid jail time. One of the more popular methods of achieving this result is illustrating to the court and prosecution that any drug selling was done primarily as a product of an addiction issue rather than a business enterprise.
Therefore, if you are facing serious drug charges in Stamford, Greenwich or elsewhere in Connecticut, you should be as open and honest with your criminal attorney as possible about your drug use and any rehabilitation efforts you engaged in prior to your arrest. These efforts, plus any treatment you commit to in earnest during the time your Connecticut drug and narcotics possession and sale charges are pending, will most certainly help you in your case.
On the flipside of the leniency the law allows for drug defendants battling addiction, there are separate penalties for people convicted of PWITS who are not drug-dependent at the time of the alleged drug charges. In other words, if you plead guilty to being a drug dealer and you cannot convince the judge or prosecutor that you have a drug addiction problem, then the punishment is much stiffer under C.G.S. § 21a-278 (click here for the statute).
For example, if you are convicted of possession with intent to sell cocaine, heroin, methadone or acid in large amounts, you can receive an entire life sentence, and of that sentence, 5 to 20 years can be ordered mandatory. For possession with intent to sell hallucinogens and amphetamine-type substances for non-drug-dependent people, the punishment can be between 5 and 20 years.
Thus, as the best Stamford criminal lawyers will affirm, proving a history of drug use and addiction to a court in connection with any Connecticut narcotics or drug dealing charges can be critical to any defense strategy.
And as if the drug laws were not tough enough, a separate section of the Connecticut drug laws imposes additional penalties if you are a Non-Drug-Dependent person convicted of Possession With Intent to Sell Narcotics within 1500 feet of a public or private elementary or high school, licensed day care center, or public housing project.
In these cases, C.G.S. § 21a-278a (click here for the statute) requires the court to add an additional 3 years of mandatory jail time on to any other sentence the court imposes. This means that these 3 years must be served consecutive (as opposed to concurrent) to the underlying drug conviction sentence—all the more reason to consult with a top Greenwich or Stamford drug possession attorney if you are charged with drug crimes under C.G.S. §§ 21a-278a or 21a-277.
One looming issue in any serious drug case that is prosecuted in any Connecticut state court is whether federal charges will be brought against a defendant as well. The United States Attorney’s Office in Connecticut, with the assistance of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (the “DEA”) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) can unilaterally exercise jurisdiction over most state drug cases and commence a prosecution in federal court, where the penalties and mandatory minimum jail sentences are even tougher than those penalties under the Connecticut state drug laws described above.
The feds do not take over cases often but when large amounts of drugs (especially cocaine, crack, heroin, and Oxycontin) are involved, coupled with allegations of interstate sales and distribution, and large amounts of money being pocketed by drug dealers, you should be very concerned that a federal investigation and subsequent prosecution will ensue.
In very rare circumstances, even if the feds take over your case, the state prosecution could still go forward. The bottom line is that if your felony drug case is serious (as most are), you should discuss the risks of a federal prosecution with your top narcotics and drug possession attorneys handling your case in the Stamford, Norwalk Bridgeport, Milford or Danbury courts.
One bright spot of mercy and leniency in the otherwise rigid Connecticut drug law scheme is the State’s recent decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. It is no longer a misdemeanor crime to possess less than one-half ounce of marijuana. While decriminalized, simple possession of marijuana under C.G.S. § 21a-279a (click here for the statute) is now only an infraction in Connecticut, punishable by a $150 fine for the first offense, and up to $500 for a second or subsequent offense.
Here is the tricky part of this new marijuana law, however. If the police catch someone possessing less than one-half ounce of marijuana, a police officer will only write a ticket for the infraction. In this instance, the individual will not face arrest. In fact, the ticket will look like a run-of-the-mill speeding ticket or parking ticket, leading an average person to believe that mailing the payment for the fine is the only necessary step. No big deal right? Not quite.
Pleading guilty to simple marijuana possession in Connecticut under C.G.S. § 21a-279a can have long-lasting consequences, even though it is no longer crime. The guilty plea to your marijuana infraction is actually registered in your permanent driving record with the DMV and can come up with background checks for employment, housing, and government screenings. Sure, society is getting more liberal in their attitudes on marijuana, but keep in mind that not everyone shares these sentiments, especially uptight employers and landlords.
Additionally, if you are under 21 and you plead guilty to this Connecticut marijuana possession infraction ticket, the Connecticut DMV suspends your license for 60 days. The suspension will also cause you to incur more fees for license restoration and exposing your DMV record and insurance premiums to more scrutiny.
With all of these various issues hanging over a simple marijuana possession charge, it is a good idea to consult with a top Stamford marijuana possession lawyer to determine whether you should fight your marijuana infraction ticket under C.G.S. § 21a-279a. While it may be easier to just pay the fine, the long-term consequences of having the infraction on your permanent record should give you just cause and pause for concern.
NOTE: This is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.