What Are Your Potential Defenses Against A Charge Of Drug Possession?

If you've been arrested for possession of illegal drugs or paraphernalia following a routine traffic stop, you may be wondering whether you have any legal recourse against potential jail time or steep fines and court costs. Fortunately, there are several defenses you may be able to use to rebut the legality of the traffic stop or search that led to your arrest. Read on to learn more about defending yourself against a charge of illegal drug possession.

Should you fight the arrest or attempt to enter into a plea bargain?

Your first decision should be whether you wish to argue the legality of your arrest or negotiate with the prosecutor to enter into a plea bargain arrangement. Plea bargaining is an often-used technique that helps relieve crowded court calendars (by avoiding multiple hearings and a jury trial) while allowing the defendant to enjoy a lesser sentence than he or she might otherwise have received at a trial. However, if you feel you should be able to completely exonerate yourself, entering into a plea bargain may not be the best decision.

You'll want to carefully evaluate the evidence in your favor, as well as the evidence against you, to get a good idea of whether it's worthwhile to fight your charge. Although you may be able to negotiate a reduced charge and sentence if you don't have any prior criminal history, you'll also want to consider the potential impact of a drug conviction on your employment, ability to obtain student loans or be accepted into college, or other prospects.

What factors may be used in your defense?

  • Legality of search

When conducting a traffic stop, police officers must be careful to only perform actions or make requests of you based on probable cause. For example, if you are pulled over for speeding, and the police officer notices a heavy smell of alcohol on your breath when you roll down the window, he or she now has probable cause to ask you to step out of the vehicle and perform a field sobriety test. If you are observed leaving the home of a known drug dealer with a paper bag in your hand, a police officer may have probable cause to pull you over and ask to search your vehicle.

However, if you were breaking no laws when you were pulled over, and were asked to allow the officer to search your car without any stated reason, it may be likely that the officer did not have sufficient probable cause to search you or your vehicle. Without probable cause for an initial search, any subsequent discovery of illegal drugs is inadmissible in court -- and without evidence of the drugs themselves, there is no legal justification for your conviction of a drug crime.

  • Chain of custody

If the initial traffic stop and search were valid, you may still be able to attack the admissibility of the drugs seized from you by questioning the chain of custody. This is a term used to describe the strict procedures by which evidence is seized at the scene, tagged and labeled, and securely stored in an evidence room until trial. In order for physical evidence to be admissible against a defendant, the prosecutor must be able to show each time the evidence was transferred to another individual, as well as establish that there was no access to the evidence room at the police station that would have permitted anyone to tamper with the material.

Most police departments use chain of custody forms to sign over evidence whenever it changes hands. If an entry on this form is missing (or even illegible), this may be sufficient to argue that the evidence is potentially tainted and cannot be used to establish guilt. If the physical evidence is deemed inadmissible, your case will likely be dismissed. Definitely get advice from your criminal lawyer as you prepare for your court date.