Despite a nationwide shift towards the legalization and decriminalization of certain drugs, Pennsylvania’s drug laws still inflict severe penalties on drug crime offenders – even first-time offenders. Individuals who are convicted of drug crimes in Pennsylvania are subject to various sanctions, like fines, driver’s license suspension, and substance abuse counseling. If you or a family member is facing a first-time drug possession charge in Pennsylvania, you should speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Philadelphia drug possession lawyer Lloyd Long can help you fight your charge for possession of controlled substances, including cocaine, marijuana, heroin, LSD, methamphetamine, ecstasy, and other substances. In this article, attorney Lloyd Long explains possible criminal penalties for first-time drug offenders in Pennsylvania.
Penalties for a First Offense of Drug Possession in PA
Title 18 of the Statutes of Pennsylvania Section 7508 describes drug charges and the penalties for those charges. The penalties vary depending on the type of drug the suspect possessed, the quantity of the drug in his or her possession, and whether it is a first, second, or subsequent offense.
For example, defendants who are convicted of possessing up to 30 grams of cannabis (marijuana) are subject to a penalty of up to 30 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, and an automatic six-month suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license. Defendants who were convicted of possessing over 30 grams of marijuana can receive penalties of up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, and an automatic suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license.
First-time offenders who possess even a small quantity of heroin will be subject to severe penalties. Heroin is a much more potent drug than marijuana, and because of this, the penalties for possessing heroin are more severe than those for marijuana possession in Philadelphia.
For a first offense, a defendant who is convicted of having less than one gram of heroin is subject to a penalty of up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. If the defendant is convicted a second time, the penalty increases to up to years in prison.
The penalties for possession of so-called “party drugs” like MDMA, ecstasy, methamphetamine, and other forms of these drugs, are similar to those for heroin. The defendant will generally face a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both. Likewise, possession of an illegal prescription drug is subject to a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5,000, or both for a first offense.
Except where otherwise noted, the penalties mentioned above are for first-time simple possession offenses, which are generally known as misdemeanors. Misdemeanors are not as serious as felonies and carry a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail. Repeat offenders (and individuals who are charged with possession with the intent to distribute, or PWID) will face greater penalties.
ARD: PA’s First Time Offender Program for Drug Crimes
If you are a first-time offender and are worried about the consequences of a drug charge on your criminal record, Pennsylvania’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program (ARD) can potentially help you. The purpose of Pennsylvania’s ARD program is to help people who are not criminals but who just made a mistake. The ARD program allows individuals to wipe the slate clean after the completion of certain requirements. The ARD probationary period usually lasts either six months or one year, but can be as low as 30 days for simple possession of marijuana.
First-time offenders who have committed a misdemeanor drug offense may be eligible for the ARD program in Pennsylvania. The ARD program is approved by the district attorney and does not require an offender to plead guilty or be convicted of a crime. First-time offenders who complete the ARD program can have their charges dismissed after fines, community service, and the successful completion of a probationary period.
Once a first-time offender’s charges are dismissed, they can apply for an expungement of their crimes. An expungement officially removes criminal charges from a person’s criminal record. Any individual who has been convicted of a crime in the past is ineligible for the ARD program.
Philadelphia Drug Charge Attorney Can Help You Fight Your Case
If you or a family member is accused of committing a first-time drug offense, or has been placed under arrest, you should consult with a drug defense lawyer immediately. Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lloyd Long has years of experience handling various types of drug crimes, including both felonies and misdemeanors, and will tirelessly work to help fight your case. The Law Offices of Lloyd Long represents clients in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania, and we are ready to represent you. To schedule a free consultation, call 24 hours a day at (215) 302-0171, or contact us online.