1. How do drug charges work?
Generally, the more drugs you’re caught with, the stiffer your penalties will be (jail time, court fines, etc). For example, trafficking in drugs usually carries harsher penalties than simple possession of drugs.
In South Carolina, state drug charges are generally linked into these categories: Simple Possession, Possession with Intent to Distribute (PWID), Distribution, Trafficking and Manufacturing.
In addition, your drug charge penalties typically increase as your number of prior drug charge convictions increases. The Court may consider factors such as these:
- Is this your first, second, third, etc. conviction for the same drug? Or a different drug?
- Are your previous drug convictions for simple possession, trafficking, distribution, etc?
- What amount of time has passed between your current drug charge and your prior drug conviction?
- Is this the first time you’ve ever been arrested for a drug charge?
- What is your prior record? Do you have other non-drug related convictions on your record?
- How much of the drug was in your possession? What is the weight of the drug?
- What type of drug did you have? Marijuana, meth, cocaine, etc?
- How was the drug packaged? Was it all in one bag or packaged in individual bags that were packaged presumably for sale?
- Was the amount of the drug found so small that it could be considered for personal use as opposed to enough for more than one person?
2. Do drug charges get dropped at age 18?
No. Nothing “magically” happens to your criminal record when you turn 18. However, if all of the following are true, you can apply for an expungement. Please note that there is no guarantee the expungement will be granted.
- You were convicted of a criminal offense as a juvenile,
- The offense qualifies for an expungement (i.e. a way to get this charge off your record), and
- You’re eligible for an expungement.
If you were charged and convicted of a drug offense as an adult, the charge does not go away automatically when you turn 18. The current expungement laws would apply.
3. Are drug charges a felony?
Depending on your charge, some drug charges are felonies. To find out if your drug charge is a felony, look up the exact SC statute number to see if it qualifies. Generally, the more weight you’re charged with, the heftier the court fines, jail time and classification of felony/misdemeanor. For example, Simple Possession of Marijuana is a misdemeanor in SC. Manufacturing or Trafficking Methamphetamine is a felony.
4. Are drug charges considered violent crimes?
This depends on the particular drug charge(s) against you. Some drug charges are considered violent crimes, even though “violence” may not be involved in what you would consider in everyday language. But in “legal terms,” certain drug charges are considered violent. This is an important distinction for the purposes of time spent in jail.
For example, Manufacturing or Trafficking Methamphetamine/Crank is a violent crime. Conspiracy to Traffic is treated the same as Trafficking in terms of punishment and classification as a violent crime.
5. When do drug charges become federal?
Federal drug charges typically involve a large amount of drugs, can cross state borders, and often involve more than one person moving the drugs or participating in the drug conspiracy. Federal cases can also include large amounts of drugs and possession of weapons.
6. Can drug charges be dropped?
Yes. It is possible for a drug charge to be dropped. For example, if your defense lawyer reviews your case and finds the police conducted an unlawful search and seizure, the case could be dropped. It is also possible to have charges dismissed after completing a diversion program, such as the PTI program. Some people have their drug charges dismissed by becoming Confidential Informants (“snitches”).
7. Can misdemeanor drug charges be dropped?
Yes. See question #6.
8. Can a felony drug charge be reduced to a misdemeanor?
Yes. After collecting and reviewing all of the evidence in your case, your lawyer can discuss your case with the prosecuting attorney and/or officer in hopes of getting your case reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. Some factors to consider are the weight of the drug, the reasonableness of the search and your prior criminal history.
9. Can drug charges be expunged?
Yes. This depends on the particular drug charge you want removed from your criminal record. Drug charges are subject to the current expungement laws.
10. Can a drug charge affect financial aid?
Yes. Some colleges and universities prohibit you from obtaining financial aid if you have a drug conviction on your criminal record.
11. How long do drug charges stay on your record?
It depends on what crime you were convicted of. If you’re eligible for an expungement for a drug charge, you must wait three years from the date of conviction to begin the expungement process. A lawyer can assist you in this process. Generally, you must have no other convictions on your record before or after your drug conviction in order to qualify. If you were on parole or probation as a result of a drug conviction, this charge is not eligible for an expungement.
12. Does a drug charge disqualify you from going into or staying in the military?
Yes, it can. Check with a recruitment representative branch of the military to find out the specifics, as each branch of the military has different standards.
13. Is possession of paraphernalia a drug charge?
No. Possession of Drug Paraphernalia is a misdemeanor in SC and is a separate charge than a drug charge.
14. Will my driver’s license be suspended for a drug charge?
This depends on the specific charge that you’re convicted of. If you’re convicted of simple possession of marijuana (less than 28 grams), then your driver’s license will not be suspended. Click here to see if your SC drivers license has been suspended.
15. If I’m convicted of a drug charge, can I still own a gun?
This depends on the specific charge that you’re convicted of. If you’re convicted of simple possession of marijuana (less than 28 grams), then you can still own a gun.
16. Is manufacturing drugs considered a felony?
This depends on the specific drug charge. Manufacturing Meth is considered a felony in South Carolina. It’s also considered a violent, serious charge.
17. How much jail time can I get if I’m convicted for a drug charge?
The amount of jail time you’re facing is very different from the amount of jail time that you will actually have to serve. Some drug charges are so serious that they require you to serve 85 percent of the prison term if you are convicted.
Generally, the more serious the drug charge, the more jail time you will be facing. The court will also consider your prior criminal history, especially prior convictions for drug charges, your age and the time period that has passed between current and prior drug convictions.
18. What if the drugs weren’t mine?
If this is the case, you may have a defense to your drug charge.
19. When could a drug charge elevate from Simple Possession to Intent to Distribute?
If you’re in possession of the following, you can be charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute:
Marijuana – more than 28 grams
Crack, Cocaine, Meth – more than 1 gram
Heroin – more than 2 grains (.13 grams)
Ecstacy/ MDMA – more than 15 tablets (over 100 tablets would be considered trafficking)
20. Should I plead guilty to my drug charge?
No. Talk to an attorney, and explore your options. You don’t necessarily have to retain the attorney, but you can get some advice that may be helpful. Remember: The decisions you make now can impact you for years to come.