Crack Cocaine 101: Fines, Penalties & Jail Time in SC
Your landlord called the police because she heard loud noises in your apartment. Before you know it, law enforcement is beating on your door, and once they are in your apartment they spot a rock-like substance on your coffee table.
You’ve been caught red-handed with crack cocaine.
I’ll be honest with you, crack cocaine charges are harsh. That’s mostly because crack cocaine is the drug most often associated with violent crime in South Carolina. In fact, according to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), crack is associated with more arrests than any other drug in South Carolina.
What happens next depends on your circumstances and the charge(s) you face. The more severe the charge, the more severe the punishment. Ultimately the amount you have in your control and possession matters when it comes to prison time, fines or probation.
Let’s look at a few facts. In doing so, you’ll be better able to determine:
- what charges you may face,
- what those charges could mean for your future, and
- how a lawyer may be able to help.
Crack Cocaine 101
We’ll stick with the coffee table example for the purpose of this article; though, it’s important to note that the same law applies no matter where the drugs are in your home, or whether they are on you, in your car, in your purse or in your bag. You could even be arrested for a passenger in your car having drugs in their purse. You could be arrested for a house guest having crack at your residence.
First, make sure you’re not confusing crack cocaine with powder cocaine—there is a difference. For now, we’re talking specifically about crack cocaine. What’s that difference? Let’s find out.
Crack cocaine and cocaine are two different substances.
Both powder cocaine and crack cocaine come from the cocoa plant. In either form, cocaine is considered a stimulant.
The biggest difference is that powder cocaine is produced by combining coca paste and hydrochloric acid; while crack combines powder cocaine, baking soda and water and then is dried into a solid. This solid is where the name “crack” cocaine comes from–the dried masses are broken into smaller pieces, or rocks, of crack cocaine.
Crack cocaine and powder cocaine differ in cost, how they are abused, and how quickly they affect the body.
Crack cocaine and powder cocaine were not created equal.
Crack cocaine takes less time to reach the brain (about 20 seconds) than cocaine that is snorted (up to 20 minutes). Crack’s effects last about 30 minutes, while cocaine’s effects, when snorted, lasts up to an hour. When injected, cocaine can last up to 30 minutes.
Crack Cocaine Charges
If you’ve been caught with crack cocaine, how severely the legal system punishes you if you are convicted depends on your charge.
You could be charged with:
- Possession of crack (“cocaine base” is the legal term)
- possession with intent to distribute (PWID) crack (cocaine base), or
Possession of Crack Cocaine
Suppose you’ve been caught with less than one gram of crack cocaine and charged with possession. If it’s your first offense, your charge will be classified as a misdemeanor. Keep in mind that if you have ever been convicted of other drug charges in the past, your new arrest could mean you are charged with second offense. This is true even if your prior drug conviction was a drug other than crack. If your charge is not your first offense, you’re looking at a felony classification. You will face jail time and/or a fine as follows for possession of crack cocaine:
|First offense (less than one gram of crack) ||Misdemeanor ||Up to 3 years ||Up to $5,000 |
|Second offense (less than one gram of crack) ||Felony ||Up to 5 years ||Up to $7,500 |
|Third offense (less than one gram of crack) ||Felony ||Up to 10 years ||Up to $12,500 |
*You may be sentenced to jail time, a fine, or both.
If the crack cocaine is “on your person” it is considered actual possession. Here are some easy to understand examples of “actual possession” and how you could be charged with possession of crack:
- If you have the crack in your pants pocket and you are wearing your pants
- If you have crack in your shirt pocket and you are wearing the shirt
- If you have crack in your shoes or socks and are wearing the shoes or socks
- If you have the crack in a shirt tied around your waist
- If you have have crack stuffed into the hat you are wearing
- If you have crack in a container in your pants or shirt pocket
- If you have crack in a backpack or purse you are wearing
- If you have crack in your wallet and your wallet is in your pocket of the pants or shirt you are wearing
Sometimes I get asked, “How can I be charged with possession of crack when I never had any crack cocaine on me? I didn’t have any in my pants or shirt pocket, it wasn’t in my wallet, it wasn’t in my purse, etc.” If the crack is within your “control and dominion” but not actually on your person, you could be charged with constructive possession.
Here are some easy to understand examples of “constructive possession” and how you could be charged with possession of crack:
- A passenger in the car you are driving has crack in her purse, and she does not admit to law enforcement the crack belongs to her -- both of you could be arrested.
- In doing a favor for your boyfriend, you agree to deliver crack to his friend. The crack is found by law enforcement under the seat of your car. Even though the crack doesn’t belong to you, you can still be charged with possession of crack.
- You agree to give your cousin a ride to drop off some crack to someone else. You make no money in the sale. It wasn’t your crack, but you could be arrested for possession of crack if you knew the reason for the car ride.
- You give someone crack as a gift; no money is exchanged. You can still be charged with possession of crack.
In our coffee table example, the State must prove all three of these to charge you with constructive possession:
- You had dominion and control over the crack.
- You knew the crack was present.
- You knew the illicit nature of crack cocaine.
Possession with Intent to Distribute (PWID) Crack Cocaine
Maybe a scale was sitting next to 8 grams of crack on your coffee table. In this case, you could face a PWID crack cocaine charge. Many factors could warrant a PWID charge including, but not limited to: the amount of crack found in your possession (between 1-10 grams), how it was packaged, if measuring devices were present and if quantities of crack were separated into smaller amounts.
And if, by chance, you happened to have been texting your buddy to swing by after work to smoke when the cops showed up at your door, that communication could be considered evidence as well.
Did you know law enforcement can confiscate (take) your phone and search your text messages, internet activity and messages, emails and calls? Having multiple, disposable cell phones is not always effective if you are hoping to “throw off” law enforcement. They can get a search warrant for your home, your phone, your facebook account (even if it is set to “private”, your emails, bank accounts, accounting records, and can even put a GPS on your vehicle without your knowledge.
Here are the penalties you can expect if law enforcement charges you with PWID crack (cocaine base):
|First offense (1-10 grams) ||Felony ||Up to 15 years ||Up to $25,000 |
|Second offense (1-10 grams) ||Felony ||5-30 years (not eligible for probation) ||Up to $50,000 |
|Third offense (1-10 grams) ||Felony ||10-30 years (not eligible for probation) ||Up to $50,000 |
*You may be sentenced to jail time, a fine, or both.
Lastly, remember that if the cops discover one or more grams of crack cocaine and/or paraphernalia that’s used to make cocaine, those items will give law enforcement reason to charge you with intent to manufacture crack cocaine.
Some examples of evidence that law enforcement may try to claim is evidence of cooking crack include:
- Cigarette Lighter (Bic Lighter, etc.) or similar heat source
- Aluminum foil
- Distilled or Purified Water
- Baking Soda
- Rubbing alcohol (not the kind you drink)
Trafficking Crack Cocaine
Let’s say you’ve stashed 30 grams of crack under the couch before you answered the door for the police. After finding the scale and crack on the coffee table, they search thoroughly and find the rest. Now, you’re facing charges of trafficking crack cocaine.
If law enforcement finds 10-28 grams of crack, here are the sentences and fines you’re looking at:
|First offense (10-28 grams of crack) ||Felony ||3-10 years (not eligible for probation) ||$25,000 |
|Second offense (10-28 grams of crack) ||Felony ||5-30 years (not eligible for probation) ||$50,000 |
|Third offense (10-28 grams of crack) ||Felony ||25-30 years (not eligible for probation) ||$50,000 |
If law enforcement finds, 28-100 grams of crack, you will be facing:
|First offense (28-100 grams of crack) ||Felony ||7-25 years (not eligible for probation) ||$50,000 |
|First offense (28-100 grams of crack) ||Felony ||7-30 years (not eligible for probation) ||$50,000 |
|Third offense (28-100 grams of crack) ||Felony ||25-30 years (not eligible for probation) ||$50,000 |
And finally, if law enforcement finds 100 grams or more, you will face:
Amount of Crack
|100-200 grams of crack ||Felony ||25 years (not eligible for probation) ||$50,000 |
|200-400 grams of crack ||Felony ||25 years (not eligible for probation) ||$100,000 |
|400 grams or more of crack ||Felony ||25-30 years (not eligible for probation) ||$200,000 |
A final note on trafficking crack: If you’re charged with trafficking, you are not eligible for a sentence suspension or probation at sentencing.
Defenses to Crack Cocaine Charges
Just because you know the crack was yours and were caught red handed by the police doesn’t mean you will be convicted. The burden is on the state of South Carolina (the prosecution) to prove you are guilty. If they don’t have sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty, you may have a chance of not being convicted.
Here are some examples of possible defenses:
- The biggest, most common reason is that law enforcement did not have probable cause to search you, your car, the vehicle you were riding in, your residence, the residence where you were, etc. If they didn’t have probable cause to search, then it’s possible to suppress (get thrown out) all of the crack the police collected.
- Lab Test Results prove the substance was not actually crack cocaine.
- Law Enforcement cannot produce a valid chain of custody of where the drugs were stored, how they were stored, when they were moved, how they were transported after they were seized, etc.
- K-9 did not alert properly.
- Someone else claims the drugs belonged to them.
- The weight of the crack is incorrect.
- Evidence is lost or destroyed. (The crack got destroyed by the evidence custodian, the video is no longer available because it was erased off the system, videotape melted in a police cruiser that got too hot, etc.)
- Key witnesses are not available for trial, including law enforcement, confidential informants, or other important witnesses.
- Unreliable anonymous tipsters who do not have credibility.
- Vague or ambiguous anonymous tipsters who do not provide specific enough information to effectuate a proper arrest on the appropriate person.
- Photo lineup is not fair and reasonable.
- Search warrants are not done correctly.
- Miranda rights violations are present.
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