Drug Crimes: Frequently Asked Questions

Over the years, America’s “War on Drugs” has led to millions of drug charges, as well as substantial and life-altering penalties for those convicted in our criminal justice system. Although recent advocacy efforts and new legislative initiative have helped transition our judicial system’s approach to drug crimes from harsh punishment to rehabilitation, individuals charged with drug crimes today still face serious consequences upon conviction.

At Joey Gilbert Law, our Reno criminal defense lawyers have extensive experience representing clients charged with all types of state and federal drug crimes. In all cases we handle, we leverage decades of experience to help our clients pursue the best possible outcomes, and to protect their rights, freedom, and future at every step of their legal journeys. Because many of the clients we work with voice questions about drug crimes in Nevada, their rights, and the process of criminal prosecution, we wanted to compile a list of frequently asked questions and answers.

What factors influence the severity of a drug crime and its penalties?

Every case is different, which is why individuals facing criminal prosecution for a drug-related offense can face various charges and penalties. Whether it be simply possession or a serious felony-level crime, there are certain factors that can influence the severity of charges and penalties. For example, a defendant’s criminal history plays a big role in potential penalties – as repeat offenders (those with prior drug crime convictions) can face elevated charges and penalties. Other factors that influence severity of charges and penalties can include the type of drug involved in a crime, the amount of drug, the defendant’s intent (personal use vs. sales), whether a firearm was involved, gang activity, and the presence of other crimes. If federal authorities handle investigations or prosecution of a drug crime, defendants can also face more severe penalties and hefty sentences in federal prison, which is why federal drug crimes demand the attention of experienced defense lawyers.

How are drugs classified?

Both Nevada and the federal government classify drugs according to their potential for abuse, medical use, and effects of abuse. These classifications help prosecutors in determining which charges to pursue, as well as potential penalties. In Nevada, there are 5 different schedules of controlled substances. These include:

  • Schedule I – Schedule I controlled substances are those considered the most likely to be abused, and which have no accepted medical use or are considered unsafe for medical purposes. Examples of common Schedule I drugs include, methamphetamine, heroine, ecstasy, LSD, and PCP. While marijuana is still a Schedule I drug under Nevada and federal law, it has been approved by state voters for medicinal and recreational use, and is handled differently in our criminal justice system.
  • Schedule II – Schedule II drugs also have a high potential for abuse, as well as the potential for severe physical or psychological dependence, though they may have some accepted medical use. Common Schedule II drugs include cocaine, hydrocodone (such as Vicodin and other prescription narcotic painkillers), oxycodone, methadone, barbiturates, and methylphenidate (Ritalin).
  • Schedule III – Schedule II drugs have accepted medical use and less potential for abuse and dependence. However, they are still illegal under state law. These drugs commonly include ketamine, testosterone, and anabolic steroids.
  • Schedule IV – These drugs have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule II narcotics, but can still be abused and cause dependence and other negative effects. Common Schedule IV drugs include valium, Xanax, clonazepam, sedatives and tranquillizers, and Ambien.
  • Schedule V – Schedule V controlled substances have accepted medical use and the lowest potential for abuse and dependence in comparison to other drugs listed on illegal drug schedules. These include substances that contain codeine (such as certain cough suppressants), and substances that contain small amounts of dihydrocodeine, ethylmorphine, opium, and difenoxin.

What rights do I have when charged with a drug crime?

If you have been charged with a drug-related crime, it is important to remember that you have legal rights. This includes your right to remain silent and not speak with law enforcement – a right you should exercise in order to avoid self-incrimination. You also have the right to legal representation from a lawyer who can advocate on your behalf and handle communication with law enforcement, as well as your right to challenge the government’s case against you. Remember, you are considered innocent until proven guilty in our criminal justice system, and have the right to prove your innocence in court.

If I have a legal prescription, can I still be charged with a drug crime?

Although there are valid medical reasons to have and use a drug that has been legally prescribed, many people are surprised to learn that they can still face criminal charges in relation to a medication for which they have a legal prescription. That’s because these controlled substances are carefully regulated. Aside from possession these drugs without a prescription, you can also face charges related to sales (even if you did not intend to sell the medication, fraudulent prescription, and driving under the influence (DUI), among others.

If I didn’t actually use the drug in question, can I still be charged with a crime?

The simple answer to this question is yes – you can be charged with a crime even if you did not use the drug involved in your arrest and charge. This is because it is illegal to possess controlled substances (especially without a valid prescription) or to possess controlled substances with the intent to sell or distribute them.

What are the penalties for a drug crime?

The penalties for a drug offense depend on the unique factors involved in your case. As mentioned, penalties can be influenced by your criminal history (prior drug convictions), as well as the type and amount of drugs involved. Additionally, the crime itself will dictate penalties. For example, most simple possession charges (especially a first offense) are punishable by fines and possible terms of imprisonment. However, there may be options for alternative sentencing, including drug rehabilitation, court-ordered classes, and treatment that allow a convicted individual to obtain drug counseling in lieu of stiff penalties or jail time.

More serious offenses, such as sales, distribution, and trafficking, can be charged as felonies, which means they carry more serious penalties, including longer terms of imprisonment. In any case, the seriousness of a conviction and the long-term consequences it can have on your life demand the attention of a proven lawyer.

What about marijuana crimes?

Many states across the country have relaxed criminal laws on marijuana. Although Nevada has legalized the use of cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, that does not mean you can’t still be charged with a crime involving marijuana. Marijuana is also still illegal under federal law. In a recent blog, we discussed Nevada marijuana crimes and answered common questions about what marijuana crimes individuals can still face. These include sales to minors, marijuana DUI, and other serious offenses such as sales without a license and trafficking.

Have additional questions about drug crimes or wish to discuss a potential case? Contact Joey Gilbert Law 24/7 at (775) 574-4774 for a FREE and confidential consultation. Our experiences attorneys are standing by to discuss your rights and what we can to do help!


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