Facing drug crime charges can be overwhelming. Still, defendants may feel more in control or at ease if they know that strategies may be available for defending against allegations. One of the most important is to exercise caution when speaking to law enforcement officials. Saying anything can lead to self-incrimination. It's also crucial to scrutinize police investigations for irregularities, as these can weaken the prosecution's case. Interviewing witnesses present during the alleged crime is another effective strategy, allowing the defendant to challenge inaccuracies or misrepresentations in the official report. Another approach is to cast doubt on each of the elements of the offense. If even one element is questionable, the entire case can weaken. Finally, a plea deal may be an appropriate course of action if it appears that there is strong evidence against the defendant.
An Overview of Utah’s Laws and Penalties for Drug Charges
Utah has laws concerning drug-related activities and prescribes harsh penalties for those who break them.
According to Utah Code § 58-37-8, producing, manufacturing, dispensing, or distributing controlled substances is illegal. Furthermore, possessing or using a controlled substance is forbidden, except with a doctor's prescription. Similarly, anyone participating in prescription drug fraud activities may face criminal charges.
Utah Code 58-37a-5 makes it unlawful to possess or use drug paraphernalia. These items include any equipment used for planting, growing, producing, analyzing, packaging, or doing any other activity related to drug manufacturing, dispensing, producing, distributing, or possessing.
Drug crimes can be charged as misdemeanors or felonies, depending on the conduct and the type and amount of the substance involved. The potential conviction penalties range from up to 6 months in jail to life imprisonment. Additionally, the court can assess a fine.
Understanding the Criminal Process and Legal System Related to Drug Charges
The criminal justice process typically begins with an investigation. Law enforcement officials and defense lawyers each examine the facts and evidence to build their cases. On the government side, authorities use the information to try to prove guilt. In contrast, the defense relies on the information to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s arguments.
Depending on the weight of the evidence against the defendant, the case may be resolved through a plea deal, an agreement between the prosecutor and the defendant with the help of their defense attorney.
If a plea bargain is not possible, the case may go to trial, where a judge or jury hears the evidence and decides the outcome.
Regardless of the case's direction, building a solid defense strategy is essential for pursuing a favorable outcome.
Exercising Caution When Speaking to Law Enforcement
A lot is at stake in a drug crime case. And the outcome rests largely on the steps at the early stages. Thus, the defendant must be mindful of their interactions with law enforcement officials during the investigation.
In some cases, the prosecutor’s arguments will be based on information obtained from the defendant. That is why defendants must remember their right to remain silent when questioned by the police.
Though it can be intimidating for a defendant to tell investigators that they politely decline to answer questions, doing so prevents them from offering statements that could be misconstrued and used against them later.
Looking for Irregularities in Police Investigations
During drug crime investigations, police officers must follow proper protocols. For example, the officers conducting a search or seizure must have a valid warrant, or an exception must exist to the warrant requirement. Otherwise, the evidence they gather could be declared inadmissible. Having evidence excluded can weaken the prosecutor’s case and make it difficult to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Another irregularity that can occur is the mishandling of samples of substances suspected to be drugs. If the substance were not properly analyzed because it became contaminated or lost, the prosecutor would have difficulty proving what it was.
Interviewing witnesses can be crucial in forming a strategy for defending alleged drug crimes. Those present during the alleged incident may possess valuable insight into what happened.
By speaking with eyewitnesses, attorneys can hear firsthand accounts of the events, which may corroborate the defendant's version. Gathering this type of evidence is often essential to strengthening defense arguments and furthering one's chances of seeking a favorable outcome.
Casting Doubt on the Elements of the Offense
Raising doubt about the elements of the alleged drug crime is a great place to start when creating a strategic defense. For instance, in cases of drug possession, the defendant must have knowingly and intentionally had control of the substance.
A savvy defense lawyer can question whether the defendant was in control of what they were accused of possessing. Perhaps the defendant didn’t know the substance was in their presence – a friend might have left it in an inconspicuous place. Or maybe the defendant didn't know what they had was a drug.
Considering Plea Deals
Plea bargaining is a way of resolving drug cases without going through a full trial. Put simply, it's when the defense and prosecutor come to an agreement where the defendant pleads guilty to a reduced charge or fewer charges, or the prosecutor recommends a lighter sentence.
The downside is that by admitting guilt, the defendant gives up their right to a jury trial or appeal.
Contacting an Attorney
When building a defense strategy for drug charges, having an experienced attorney can be invaluable. A lawyer with in-depth knowledge of drug and criminal laws can examine and analyze the details to identify the case’s strengths and weaknesses. They can craft a well-thought-out defense strategy and present it compellingly to prosecutors, judges, and/or jurors.To schedule a consultation with a member of our Salt Lake City team at Lokken & Putnam, P.C., please contact us at (801) 829-9783.