Las Vegas criminal lawyer - drug possession - cocaine

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Cocaine is a potent stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca plant. Under law, possession of any amount of cocaine with no prescription is considered as an offense. Possessing crack (a form of cocaine that is processed even further than powder cocaine, to get a cheaper version) carries more serious sentences under laws. For further information on laws dealing with cocaine possession, see Drug Possession Laws.

What is Cocaine?

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The law includes cocaine in its list of narcotic illegal substances that have a potential for abuse and dependency, but have some medical use (Schedule II drugs). The law is broadly worded to encompass any derivative of or extract from coca leaves. Strictly speaking, the law includes coca leaves themselves as among the “narcotic” cocaine drugs listed.

In many regions of the Andes Mountains (and elsewhere in Ecuador, Peru, and other South American nations), people chew raw, fresh coca leaves for a mild mood and energy enhancement. This leaf consumption would be treated as illegal cocaine use and possession under certain nations´ law.

Possession of Cocaine

While we are acquainted with colloquial definition of the word “possession” (meaning having, owning, or controlling), the term has a separate meaning under the law.

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“Simple” possession

An individual illegally possesses drug (cocaine) if he/she knowingly has cocaine on his/her person (such as in a pocket) or under his/her personal, physical control (for example, in a purse). Knowingly means that the individual with the cocaine in her/his person knew that he/she had the drug on them and knew it was no legal. Therefore, if someone takes a box labeled baking soda and has no knowledge to know that the box actually has cocaine, that individual does not knowingly possess cocaine. This is the simplest, most obvious form of possession.

But the definition does not stop here when it comes to illegal narcotic drugs such as cocaine.

“Constructive possession”

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Under the law, an individual may be indicted for “constructive possession” of cocaine and other controlled substances. Therefore, an individual has constructive cocaine possession in cases in which the law interprets him/her to have legal control over the illegal substance. Such a definition is much broader than actual physical control and covers a lot of ground. In the most obvious situation, when a customs agent finds cocaine in a suitcase belonging to a person, that person could be indicted for constructive cocaine possession. Authorities have indicted people for constructive cocaine possession where the drug was found in:

-a home, vehicle, business, or other property owned or rented by the defendant
-a hotel room in which the defendant was a guest
-a social club managed by the defendant
-a warehouse used by the defendant, and
-a parcel addressed to the defendant.

In order for an accused person to be indicted for constructive cocaine possession, the prosecuting attorney must prove that the accused had the intent to control the drug, and knowledge that the drug was cocaine.

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At times, it is enough that a person is closely associated with another individual who possesses cocaine to set up constructive possession by the first individual. For instance, a person could be indicted for constructive cocaine possession found in the purse of a passenger in his/her vehicle, or for cocaine found in the house of another individual with whom the accused was closely associated whether a plan to jointly possess the drug can be shown.

Common Defenses

There are various defenses to simple and constructive cocaine possession.

Lack of knowledge

In the aforementioned example of the individual possessing a box of cocaine that she/he believes to be baking soda, he/she will be acquitted if she/he can show that she/he genuinely and reasonably believed that the box did not have cocaine. However, the circumstances of the cocaine coming into the individual’s hands will be key to this investigation.

Lack of power and intent to control

For the prosecutor to prove constructive possession, it must show that the accused intended to control the drug (cocaine) even whether it was not in his/her actual physical possession. Whether the accused person can show that he/she had no intent to control the drug, he/she may find not guilty.

Penalties

Under the law, an individual with no prior sentences of possession of any narcotic who is indicted for a first offense of cocaine possession may be punished to not over one year in jail, fined not less than $1,000, or even both. An individual indicted for cocaine possession after a prior conviction of cocaine possession or any other narcotic in any court may be punished to not less than 15 days and not more than two years in jail, fined not less than $2,500, or even both. Two or more prior sentences of possession of any narcotic in court may lead to a punishment of not less than ninety (90) days in jail, a fine of not less than $5,000, or even both. The term of incarceration and the amount of the fine may be affected by the quantity of illegal substance seized. An indictment for possession with intent to distribute (sell) cocaine greatly increases the sentences.

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Contact a criminal defense attorney

Cocaine possession is a really serious offense. If you have been under investigation or indicted for this crime, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer immediately. Only a well-experienced criminal defense attorney who is well acquainted with the law in your country will be able to advise you as to the strength of the case against you and the availability of any defenses. And only a local attorney who knows the prosecuting attorneys and judges in your courthouse can provide you with a realistic assessment on how the case is likely to proceed.