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Understanding North Carolina's drug possession laws - II

As we touched on in an earlier post, it's understandable how those placed under arrest for drug possession could feel a sense of panic, concerned that their temporary lapse in judgment will have a potentially ruinous effect on their future.

It's important for people in this situation not to panic and to understand that, depending on the circumstances of their case, things are probably not as bad as they are envisioning. To help reinforce this point, we'll continue exploring some basic background information on North Carolina's drug possession laws.   

To recap, state law dictates that it's illegal to possess controlled substances and/or possess certain controlled substances without a valid prescription. Furthermore, these controlled substances are classified under one of six schedules based on accepted medical uses, and potential for addiction/abuse.

These six classification schemes, in turn, are all assigned varying degrees of criminal charges, such that those found to be in possession of controlled substances higher on the list -- Schedule I -- will face more serious penalties for a conviction than those found to be in possession of controlled substances lower on the list -- Schedule V.

Unfortunately, it is clearly beyond the scope of a single blog post to summarize each and every possible penalty for a drug possession arrest given the complexity of North Carolina's sentencing laws, which divides felonies into ten categories and misdemeanors into four categories -- with all of these categories further subdivided by factors such as the number of previous convictions.

In light of this reality, we'll examine the very common scenario of someone being found in possession of a small amount of a schedule II, III or IV drug. Here, a person would be charged with a class 1 misdemeanor and the punishment handed down for a conviction would ultimately depend upon their criminal history.

For example, if you are a college student who was convicted after police found a small bag of cocaine in your pocket and had no prior drug convictions, you would face anywhere from one to 45 days community punishment, which enables judges to impose alternative sentences, such as probation, community service and/or treatment programs. As for the fine you'd pay, it is left to the discretion of the presiding judge.

As another example, if you are a working adult who was convicted after police found a few pills for which you didn't have a valid prescription and had one prior drug conviction on your record, you would face anywhere from one to 45 days community punishment, intermediate punishment or active punishment.

This means the presiding judge could sentence you to the type of community punishment outlined above, intermediate punishment in the form of a drug treatment facility or house arrest, or active punishment, meaning 45 days in jail. As for the fine you'd pay, it is once again left to the discretion of the presiding judge.

What all of this serves to underscore is that those arrested and charged with drug possession should not necessarily panic, but should also strongly consider speaking with an experienced legal profession who can examine their situation, explain the law and get to work protecting their rights.

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