BOSSIER DRUG DEFENSE ATTORNEY
Attorney Michael J. Vergis handles all Federal, State, and City drug charges and narcotic cases. Whether you were charged with manufacturing, distribution, possession, possession with intent, or obtaining by fraud, the Law Offices of Michael J. Vergis can represent you in your criminal case.
Drug Charges in Louisiana
The state of Louisiana possesses some of the toughest drug possession laws in the United States. However, drug crimes are one of the most – if not the single most – common crimes for which people are convicted in prisons and jails in Louisiana. 1 out of every 10 arrests made is a due to a drug or drug related crime. That’s well over a million drug arrests in Louisiana per year.
Even the smallest amount of any illegal substance can leave a permanent mark on your criminal record. Your criminal record is public, meaning that having these charges on your record can affect your ability to buy a home, get a job, receive a loan, and much more. That, along with many other reasons, is why it is so imperative that you hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help minimize the damage that a drug charge can cause.
What is a Controlled Dangerous Substance?
A controlled dangerous substance (CDS) in Louisiana includes well-known drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, etc. It also includes the compounds that are used to manufacture them.
These substances are categorized into five different “schedules.” Schedule I contains the most dangerous drugs, while Schedule V poses the least danger. The way these Schedules are categorized is based on the potential harm each drug causes, its probability of abuse, and its potential to be used for medical purposes. Here is a breakdown of each schedule and which substances fall under them:
Penalties for Schedule I drugs are divided into two different categories: marijuana offenses and non-marijuana offenses. Substances in this Schedule are defined as drugs with no current medical use and pose the highest risk of danger and abuse. While marijuana does provide several medical benefits and does not contain addictive properties, it is still considered a Schedule I drug.
Examples of a Schedule I CDS include:
- Marijuana (cannabis)
- Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)
- Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (Ecstasy)
- Methaqualone (Quaaludes)
Schedule II drugs are dangerous substances that have a high potential for abuse and dependence. Examples of a Schedule II CDS include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Phencyclidine (PCP)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
Schedule III substances are classified as drugs with a moderate to low potential for abuse and addiction, but are still relatively dangerous. Some examples of a Schedule III CDS include:
- Anabolic Steroids
Schedule IV drugs are substances with a low potential for abuse and dependence. Many of these substances have a sedative effect and are used for depressive or anxiety disorders. Examples of a Schedule IV CDS include:
- Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol or Roofies)
Finally, Schedule V substances are the least dangerous type of drug with the lowest potential for dependence and abuse. These substances consist of limited quantities of certain narcotics and often treat cough, diarrhea, and pain. Examples of a Schedule V CDS include the following:
- Robitussin AC
Is a Drug Charge a Felony or a Misdemeanor?
If you are charged with possession of a controlled substance in Louisiana, you may receive either a felony or a misdemeanor. Felony charges carry much harsher penalties than misdemeanor charges. There are a variety of factors that determine the severity of the charge you may receive.
Generally, an arrest for simple drug possession is a misdemeanor. However, there are factors – known as aggravating factors – that can bump the charge up to a felony. One example of an aggravating factor is the possession of drugs in a drug-free zone. Regardless of the type of drug or amount found on you, possession of a drug in one of these areas automatically becomes a felony. The following areas are considered drug-free zones:
- This includes public or private K-12 schools, vocational or technical schools, and universities
- Religious buildings
- Churches, synagogues, mosques, etc.
- Drug treatment facilities
- Child daycare centers
- Public housing, if posted
Other aggravating factors include repeat offenses. Louisiana possesses the “Third Strike Rule” for misdemeanor offenses. What this means is that the third misdemeanor charge, including one for drug possession, can result in a felony.
Possession with intent to sell or distribute is another automatic felony. Possessing high quantities of certain drugs, even without the intent to sell or distribute, can also entail a felony charge.
Possession of a date rape drug such as Rohypnol or “roofies” without a prescription may also land you a felony charge.
What is the Punishment for Drug Charges?
The punishment for a drug charge depends on the circumstances surrounding the charge. Whether it was felony or a misdemeanor charge, the amount found in someone’s possession, and what Schedule the drug falls under all factor into the penalties for a CDS.
Non-marijuana Schedule I offenses can range anywhere from 1-10 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. First and second violations for the possession of cannabis are punishable of up to six months in jail and fines of $1,000. For third or subsequent violations, the penalty increases from a misdemeanor to a felony. A felony offense can carry anywhere from 2-8 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.
For Schedule II offenses, sentences range anywhere from 1-5 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. The exception is if a defendant is found with phencyclidine (PCP), in which case the sentence can increase to up to 20 years.
For Schedule III, IV, and V offenses, the maximum sentence is also 1-5 years and a fine of up to $5,000. However, exceptions exist for those found in possession of Roofies without a prescription. In this case, the sentence may increase anywhere from 10-40 years and up to a $100,000 fine. This depends on if the person had intent to commit a violent crime such as rape.
Having a high quantity of certain drugs can also significantly increase a penalty. In addition, possession with intent to sell or distribute can also carry a much heavier prison term and larger fines. Intent to sell or distribute is closely related to the crime of drug trafficking, which can land you up to 40 years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.
Is Marijuana Still Illegal in Louisiana?
The government approved marijuana for medical use in some cases. However, cannabis for recreational use still remains illegal. It is a Schedule I CDS. Individuals found to have the substance will likely receive criminal charges. However, the penalties have been significantly reduced as marijuana reform increases throughout the country.
How Long Do Drug Charges Stay on Your Record?
In most cases, drug charges will remain on your criminal record for life. However, it is possible to get your charges expunged from your record with the help of an experienced attorney. Louisiana laws allow a person to “expunge” or “clear” his or her record of arrests, criminal charges, or criminal convictions in certain limited situations.
In this case, a misdemeanor drug charge must stay on your record and be available to the public for 5 years following the completion of your sentence or parole before it is able to be expunged. In addition, you must not have been convicted of any felony offense during this 5-year period.
For a felony drug conviction, ten years must have elapsed since the completion of your sentence or parole to receive an expungement. You must not have been convicted of any other criminal offense during this time. You can typically only expunge a felony drug conviction once every 15 years.
In some cases, a “first offender’s pardon” may be available to you, which will allow you to expunge your record immediately following the completion of your sentence.
Hire an Experienced Louisiana Criminal Defense Attorney to Handle Your Drug Charges
Hiring an experienced Louisiana criminal defense attorney like Michael J. Vergis gives you your best chance at dropping or reducing your drug charges. Michael Vergis has helped numerous people among North Louisiana successfully fight their drug charges and ensure they get the best possible outcome for their situation. His creative approach to handling even the most difficult cases and his dedication to resolving his clients’ legal issues have made him a highly sought-after attorney in City, State, and Federal courts. Whether it be a small misdemeanor possession charge or a serious drug felony, the Law Offices of Michael J. Vergis can give you your best shot at freedom. Contact us today to learn more.