The consequences of drug possession in Arizona can vary greatly depending on the facts and circumstances. The sentencing schemes for charges of possession and possession for sale in Arizona state court are much different than their federal counterparts.
Possession or Use of a Dangerous Drug (A.R.S. § 13-3407)
In Arizona, "dangerous drug" includes almost every drug other than marijuana, including prescription narcotics. Simple possession, or possession for personal use, is the least serious type of drug charge. It is usually charged as a class four (4) felony, but a sentence of probation is mandatory unless it is the third conviction for a drug-related crime. The judge even has the option of designating the crime as a class one (1) misdemeanor for first time offenders. Probation supervision in these cases always includes some sort of drug treatment program. This benefits everyone because it directly addresses the underlying problem -- drug addiction -- and thereby helps prevent future drug crimes. It is also far less costly to taxpayers than incarceration.
One exception to all of this is possession or use of methamphetamine. Possession or use of methamphetamine in Arizona is treated much more harshly than possession or use of other drugs. This offense cannot be designated as a misdemeanor and probation is not mandated. Instead, the maximum sentence for a first time offender is 3.75 years in prison. With a prior felony conviction, there is a mandatory sentence of between 2.25 - 7.5 years in prison. With two prior felony convictions, this range rises to 6 - 15 years in prison! And that's assuming the amount of meth involved is less than 9 grams.
Possession for Sale / Transportation for Sale (A.R.S. § 13-3407(A)(2) & A.R.S. § 13-3407(A)(7))
Possession or transportation of drugs for sale is much more serious than simple possession. These charges are considered class two (2) felonies, which means they carry the possibility of much higher prison sentences. These charges can obviously be brought against someone caught in the act of selling drugs, but they can also be brought against someone in possession of drugs. How can the state prove that someone possessed or transported a dangerous drug for sale rather than simply for personal use? There are many ways. First, Arizona law proves "threshold" amounts for certain drugs. If the amount possessed is more than the threshold amount, it is assumed that the drugs are ultimately intended for sale. Here's a list of threshold amounts in Arizona:
- Amphetamine & Methamphetamine - 9 grams
- Cocaine - 9 grams (powder form) - 750 milligrams (rock form)
- LSD - 1/2 milliliter (liquid form) - 50 dosage units (blotter form)
- Marijuana - 2 pounds
- PCP - 4 grams or 50 milliliters
In addition to these threshold amounts, and even if the amount possessed is below the threshold, police and prosecutors will look for other evidence that tends to prove the intent to sell. This type of evidence could include:
- Large amounts of cash
- The way the drugs are packaged
- Possession of other paraphernalia like plastic baggies, cutting agents, and scales
- Recorded conversations, emails, or text messages involving drug transactions
- Statements of other individuals involved
There are a wide range of possible penalties for possessing or transporting drugs for sale. If it is a first offense and the amount possessed is below the threshold amount, the sentence can range anywhere from probation to 12.5 years in prison. If the amount possessed is above the threshold amount, even first time offenders must be sentenced to between 3 and 12.5 years in prison. With one prior felony conviction, the mandatory prison range increases to 4.5 - 23.25 years. With two prior felony convictions, the range increases to 10 - 35 years in prison. That's a lot of time for driving around with a few small baggies of cocaine and some cash in your pocket!
Again, when methamphetamine is involved the penalties get even worse. A first time conviction results in a mandatory prison sentence of 5 - 15 years (the presumptive sentence is 10 years) and a second conviction results in a mandatory prison sentence of 10 - 20 years (the presumptive sentence is 15 years). Unlike prison sentences for crimes involving other drugs, where an offender typically must serve only 85% of the sentence, prison sentences imposed for methamphetamine are "flat time" sentences. In other words, 100% of the sentence must be served prior to release.
Like drug addictions themselves, criminal drug charges can have major negative repercussions; they can change a person's life forever. If you or someone you know has been charged with a drug crime, it is essential that you have adequate legal representation to attack the charges from all possible angles. If nothing else, an experienced Arizona drug lawyer can ensure that you are treated fairly and, if necessary, sentenced fairly.
* This blog is published by Tucson DUI and criminal defense attorney Nathan D. Leonardo. Nothing on this website is intended to create an attorney-client relationship. The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice, but is for general information purposes only. If you have a legal question, you can contact us online or call (520) 314-4125.