As a criminal defense attorney, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I advise clients that, generally, the more drugs you are caught with, the stiffer your penalties will be. The penalties can include jail time and court fines among other penalties. In this article, I will discuss some of the most important questions you should ask your criminal attorney in Pennsylvania.

What are the Classifications of Drug Charges in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, state drug charges are generally linked into the following categories: Simple Possession, Possession with Intent to Distribute (PWID), Distribution, Trafficking, and Manufacturing. In addition, 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 have ever been arrested on 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?

Are Drug Charges Removed From My Criminal Record 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. To read more about expungement laws, please refer to my article entitled, New Pennsylvania Expungement Law and What it Means for You.”

Can I Enlist in the Military With a Pennsylvania Drug Conviction?

There is no such thing as a “sealed record,” or an “expunged record” as far as the military is concerned. The recruiting services have access to law enforcement and FBI investigative records, which — quite often will list arrests in these categories. Even if an offense is not found during the recruiter criminal background check, it is likely to come up during a possible (probable) security clearance criminal records check. If an applicant fails to disclose the criminal history and it is later discovered, the individual may be charged under federal law, or the Uniform Code of Military Justice for False Statement, and/or Fraudulent Enlistment.

Are Drug Charges Considered Violent Crimes in Pennsylvania?

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.

When Do Drug Charges Become a Federal Crime in Pennsylvania?

Federal drug charges typically involve a large number 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.

Can Drug Charges Be Dropped in Pennsylvania?

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 Pre-trial Intervention Program or PTI. Some people have had their drug charges dismissed by becoming Confidential Informants.

Can a Felony Drug Be Reduced to a Misdemeanor in Pennsylvania?

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.

Can a Drug Charge Affect Financial Aid in Pennsylvania?

Yes. Some colleges and universities prohibit you from obtaining financial aid if you have a drug conviction on your criminal record. Any federal or state drug conviction, whether it be for the possession, conspiring to sell, or sale of illegal drugs, can disqualify a student from receiving federal student aid grants and loans. With that said, these convictions will only count against the student for financial aid purposes if the crime was committed during a time when the student was already receiving federal student aid.

How Long Do Drug Charges Remain On My Record in Pennsylvania?

It depends on what crime you were Pennsylvania with. If you are 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.

Is Possession of Paraphernalia a Drug Charge in Pennsylvania?

Officers have discretion in determining how to file Possession of Drug Paraphernalia charges. For example:

  • When officers find a small amount of marijuana in a baggie, some will file just the Small Amount of Marijuana charge, but others will file the marijuana charge along with a Possession of Drug Paraphernalia charge.
  • Police may search a room or State College apartment and find numerous items of paraphernalia, including pipes, bongs, lighters, scales, etc., and some officers will file one charge of Possession of Drug Paraphernalia that covers all items, but other officers will file a separate charge for every item.

While filing numerous charges of possession of drug paraphernalia may not be fair, it is legal, and some officers do engage in such a practice.

 If I am Convicted of a Drug Charge, Can I Still Own a Gun in Pennsylvania?

Felony convictions do not necessarily disqualify residents of the Keystone State from owning guns (while some misdemeanors do). You cannot purchase a firearm in Pennsylvania if you:

  • Have been convicted of a violent crime – felony or misdemeanor
  • Are an undocumented immigrant
  • Are declared mentally ill by the court
  • Are under 18 years old
  • Are a drug addict or habitual drunkard
  • Are a fugitive from justice
  • Have been convicted of three separate DUI charges within a five-year period
  • Are subject to an active protection from abuse order.

When Could a Drug Charge Elevate from Simple Possession to Intent to Distribute in Pennsylvania?

If you are 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)

Should I Plead Guilty to a Drug Charge in Pennsylvania?

No! Talk to an attorney and explore your options. You do not 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.

A felony drug charge and conviction can ruin your life. If you have been charged with a drug crime, call the Fishman Firm. I can help develop a winning strategy.