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What elements are considered when drug charges are filed?

When police in Fairfax City, Va learned their mayor was involved in drugs-for-sex crimes, they set up a sting operation. Posing as civilians who would provide sex to the mayor and two of his acquaintances, police met with Mayor Silverthorne in a hotel parking lot. Officers watched him obtain methamphetamines from a supplier, approach their vehicle and give them the drugs. Silverthorne and his acquaintances were arrested on the spot.

Silverthorne's co-horts were charged with two felonies (distribution of drugs and possession with intent to distribute), and a misdemeanor for possession of drug paraphernalia. They stayed in jail overnight and posted a $7,500 bail. The mayor, charged with a felony for distribution and a misdemeanor for possession of paraphernalia, signed a piece of paper and went home. Silverthorne was released due to his place in the community, the fact that he'd served on the city council and as mayor, and other factors. Clearly there was a difference between how the mayor was treated and how the other accused were, which raises the question: what do prosecutors consider when an ordinary person is accused of a drug crime?

Prosecutors first have to follow the law; they can't let someone completely off the hook when a serious crime has been committed. But there are some things that affect how they present charges.

A first offense comes with lesser charges. Silverthorne's co-horts had likely been arrested before whereas this was probably his first offense.

Some drugs are more dangerous than others. The Drug Crimes Law categorizes street drugs and controlled substances into classes. Those with a low potential for abuse are Schedule IV or V. Amphetamines, cocaine and Vicodin are Schedule II. Ecstasy and heroin are Schedule I. The higher the abuse potential, the worse the charges.

The amount of drugs involved in the crime also affect the charges. Mayor Silverthorne had roughly two grams of meth in his possession whereas the supplier was likely holding more.

Where the drugs are actually found and how they're being used also play a role in prosecution and sentencing. A tiny stash of marijuana buried in the trunk of a car isn't as serious as one kilo (1,000 grams) of cocaine found in a hotel lobby. Possessing large amounts of drugs in a public place implies there is an intention to sell, which is a more serious crime.

Compliance with police at the time of arrest makes a difference, too. One of Silverthorne's acquaintances became belligerent, resisted arrest, and was eventually tasered. He received an additional felony charge for obstructing justice.

It can be difficult to understand all the complexities of drug charges. If you've been involved in a drug crime you should consult an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your charges. An experienced lawyer can sometimes get charges reduced or even dropped.

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