Despite calls to end the so-called "War on Drugs," the current penal code of Pennsylvania continues to impose severe punishment to those convicted of drug crimes. Defendants who are convicted of drug offenses are subject to jail time, fines and court fees, substance abuse counseling, community service, driver’s license suspension, and a host of other sanctions. Even a first offense for drug possession charges can carry serious penalties.
The Criminal Penalties for a First Offense of Drug Possession
The sentencing for Pennsylvania drug offenses is set forth in Title 18 of the Statutes of Pennsylvania. Section 7508 makes the following general provisions:
- Possession of up to thirty grams of cannabis is subject to a penalty of up to thirty days in jail, a fine of up to $500, and an automatic six month suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license.
- Possession of over thirty grams of cannabis is subject to a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5000, and an automatic suspension of the defendant’s driver’s license.
- Possession of less than one gram of heroin is subject to a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5000, or both.
- Possession of less than two grams of heroin is subject to a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5000, or both.
- Possession of MDMA, ecstasy, PCP, methamphetamine, and other “party drugs” is subject to a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5000, or both.
- Possession of an illegal prescription drug is subject to a penalty of up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $5000, or both.
The sentences become harsher for repeat offenses, and for possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. While these first-time “simple possession” offenses remain misdemeanors, and not felonies, they still create a criminal record which can make life difficult for a convicted defendant.
The Collateral Consequences of a Drug Conviction
Many criminal defendants are painfully unaware of the collateral consequences of a conviction for drug possession - even if it is a first offense. Job prospects are often severely limited after even a misdemeanor drug conviction. Nor are the consequences of a criminal records limited only to job opportunities. Housing, professional licensure, education, welfare benefits, military records, immigration status, the right to serve in public office, and social opportunities can all be limited by the nature of a drug conviction. Civil rights are also revoked automatically after a felony conviction. These include: the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to possess a firearm.
A court can also order a criminal defendant to undergo substance abuse screening or treatment as it deems necessary. This, too, can incur significant investments of time and money, but it is a critical step toward rebuilding one’s life after a drug conviction. Driving privileges can also be revoked if the drug offense involved driving under the influence. This, too, requires a significant investment of time and money in order to restore a defendant's driving privileges.
If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, contact an experienced Scranton criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.