Frequently Asked Questions About Drug Offenses

If you have been arrested for a drug crime in Virginia, you may have many questions about the charges you face and possible penalties if you are convicted. Here, our skilled drug crime attorneys share answers to common questions in our FAQ section.

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  • I was arrested for selling drugs near a school. What is this offense and what penalties might I face?

    School Traffic Sign by an Elementary School It is illegal to sell, manufacture, or distribute controlled substances near a school ground or other designated properties in Virginia. This is a separate felony offense from the crime of selling, manufacturing, or distributing drugs, and you may face harsh penalties if convicted.

    What Is the Crime of Manufacturing, Distributing, or Selling Drugs Near a School?

    Virginia Code § 18.2-255.2 makes it a felony crime to sell, manufacture, or distribute controlled substances, imitation drugs, or marijuana on or near certain properties. These properties include:

    • Grounds or buildings of a private or public elementary or secondary education school, institute of higher learning, or licensed day care center, or within 1,000 feet of these grounds or buildings
    • On a school bus, at a school bus stop, or within 1,000 feet of a bus stop when children are waiting to be picked up or dropped off from a school or a school-related activity
    • On or withing 1,000 feet of the property or grounds of a state facility 

    If convicted, you may face these penalties:

    • First offense. There is a sentence of one to five years imprisonment, and a fine of up to $100,000.
    • Second or subsequent offense. If you are convicted of a second or subsequent offense that involves a Schedule I, II, or III controlled substance or more than one-half ounce of marijuana, there is a mandatory minimum one-year prison sentence that must be served consecutively with other sentences.

    It may be possible to get the charges reduced to a Class 1 misdemeanor if you can show that you sold the drugs or marijuana only to accommodate another individual and with no intent to receive a profit or to get the recipient addicted. The punishment can include up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $2,500.

    If you are facing drug charges in Fairfax or Northern Virginia, our experienced criminal defense attorneys can help you build a strong defense so that you may avoid the harsh penalties you face. Start an online chat to schedule a free initial consultation to learn more about your options.


  • What charges can I face if I am arrested for distributing drugs to a minor?

    In Virginia, any violation of controlled substance laws is prosecuted aggressively. Being charged with distributing drugs to a minor is a serious felony offense, and the punishment can include a lengthy prison sentence and a large fine. If you have been arrested for this crime, you need to retain an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to help you get the charges dismissed or reduced to a less serious offense.

    What Is the Penalty for Distributing Drugs to a Minor?

    Under Virginia Code § 18.2-555, it is a felony crime to distribute controlled substances to a minor. Here are ways that an individual who is 18 years old or older can violate this law:

    • By intentionally or knowingly distributing any drug classified as a Schedule I-IV drug or marijuana to a person under 18 years old who is at least three years younger than him.
    • By intentionally or knowingly causing a person under 18 years old to assist in the distribution of a Schedule I-IV controlled substance.

    If convicted, an individual faces harsh penalties that include a mandatory minimum prison sentence. Here are the potential sentences for violations of Virginia Code § 18.2-555:

    • The sentence for distributing drugs to a minor or causing a minor to assist in distributing them is a prison sentence of not less than 10 years and not more than 50 years and a fine not to exceed $100,000.
    • If the conviction is for a Schedule I or II controlled substance or one or more ounces of marijuana, there is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. Examples of Schedule I and II drugs include heroin, PCP, ecstasy, cocaine, and opium.
    • If the conviction involves less than one ounce of marijuana, there is a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. 

    It is also a crime to distribute to or cause a minor to assist in distributing an imitation controlled substance. This is a Class 6 felony with a sentence range of one to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

    Are you being charged with a drug offense in Fairfax or Northern Virginia? Call our office to schedule a free consultation with our experienced criminal defense attorneys to learn about your options and how we can help you put on a strong defense to the charges you face.

  • Can I Be Charged for Drug Possession or Distribution if The Drugs Are Not on Me or in my Vehicle?

    Man nervous about being charged for drug posessionIf you have illegal drugs in your pocket, in your hand, or in a bag or other container you are carrying, you are considered to be in actual possession of the drugs.  However, the law also recognizes another principle called “constructive possession,” which allows suspects to be convicted of drug crimes even if they are not in actual possession of the drugs.  Thus, even if the suspect is across the street from an illicit substance, he may still be charged if the government can prove the drugs were constructively possessed.  
    There are two legal elements for constructive possession:
    • First, did the suspect have knowledge of the substance’s nature and character?  In other words, did the person know, or have reason to know, they were in possession of an illegal substance?  They do not need to know the exact type of substance, however. It would not matter, for example, that a suspect thought he possessed heroin but actually possessed cocaine. 
    • The second element is whether the suspect knowingly exercised dominion and control over the drug.  For this, the court asks whether the suspect could access or do something with the drugs he is accused of constructively possessing.  If he had no authority to use the drugs, move them, or do anything else with them, then the person does not have dominion and control over the drug. 
    In deciding whether constructive possession has been proved, all of the circumstances present must be considered.  If the government fails to prove either aspect necessary for constructive possession (i.e., dominion and control or knowledge of the illegal character of the drug), then the individual should be found not guilty.  The good news is that Virginia recognizes that a suspect’s mere presence in an area where drugs are is not enough on its own to prove the suspect is constructively possessing drugs.  This is pretty much where the good news ends, because the suspect’s presence in the area is still a factor in the overall analysis of whether the suspect constructively possessed the drugs.  
    In addition to the suspect’s presence, the court will consider things like whether the drugs were in plain view of the suspect or whether the suspect would have been able to detect the drugs because of an overwhelming smell or other obvious characteristic.  Courts will also look at the behavior and statements of the individuals.  Furtive movements, like the appearance of something being hidden in the vehicle or thrown out of the vehicle, are often strong circumstantial indicators of knowledge and dominion and control.  A suspect’s admission that they knew the drugs were present is extremely informative and will often seal the deal on the issue of constructive possession.  
    There are numerous factors other than the ones discussed here that play into the determination of whether a suspect is in constructive possession of a drug.  If you have been charged with a drug possession or distribution charge, but the drugs were not on you, then there may be a number of legal issues with the government’s case.  Our drug offense attorneys are experienced in evaluating and defending such issues and can help you fight your charge.  Give us a call today to see how we can help.

  • Drug Residue – Can I Still Be Charged?

    Lab test for drug residue on paraphernaliaDrug users often carry paraphernalia used to consume drugs.  Marijuana users may have wraps, bowls, bongs, or a host of other devices.  A cocaine user may have a bowl, bill, or straw.  Heroin users may have spoons and needles.  Most drug users also are not the most scrupulous when it comes to cleaning, disinfecting, and making sure there is no drug residue left on their paraphernalia.  So what happens if the police seize your paraphernalia, test the residue, and charge you with a misdemeanor or felony drug possession charge?

    You may be thinking, “But it was only residue!  I wouldn’t even be able to get high off that!”  Surely if you cannot use the drug for the intended purpose – getting high – you cannot be charged.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  

    In Virginia and in federal court, that argument is not a good one.  Courts have handily rejected those types of arguments.  If a lab test is performed on the residue, and the residue is returned as a prohibited substance, then the charge would be proper.  However, just because there is residue, does not mean there is a prohibited drug present.

    The Virginia legislature has outlawed the possession of specific drugs.  Those drugs are defined by their chemical composition.  This means that if the residue that remains in the paraphernalia or elsewhere does not match, it may be that the government will not be able to move forward with the case and will have to dismiss the drug charge.  

    If you have been charged with marijuana possession or another drug charge, contact the attorneys at Greenspun Shapiro PC today to see what can be done.  Our attorneys are familiar with a wide range of drug charges and the legal issues that arise out of such cases.  Let us help you fight your drug charge.