Criminal charges in drug cases carry a wide range of penalties. Prosecutions for drug offenses in Illinois typically occur under the Cannabis Control Act or the Controlled Substances Act. Charges brought under the Cannabis Control Act can be either misdemeanors or felonies. Charges brought under the Controlled Substances Act are almost always felonies.
Three basic factors control the severity of the penalty that can be imposed in any drug case:
For example, a person may possess up to 30 grams of cannabis (marijuana) for personal use without being charged with a felony. But if the circumstances show that a person intended to sell their cannabis, then the case will be charged as a felony if the amount in question weighed any more than 10 grams.
The same factors apply in controlled substances cases. For instance, if a person possesses less than 15 grams of cocaine, that person will be charged with a Class 4 Felony. If a person possesses that same amount of cocaine, but the circumstances show that person also intended to sell it, the charge will be a much more serious Class 1 or Class 2 felony.
Controlled substances charges can arise from the illegal possession of a vast array of drugs. The most frequently charged violations of the Controlled Substances Act involve cocaine, crack, heroin, ecstacy, methamphetamine (meth), and mushrooms.
If a person has been charged with the possession of a small amount of cocaine, heroin or other controlled substance, that person may be eligible to be sentenced under section 410 of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act. This kind of sentence frequently is referred to as “410 probation.”
The benefit of 410 probation is that if a person successfully fulfills its terms, at the conclusion of probation the charges against the person are dismissed. If the charges are dismissed, no judgment of conviction enters against the person, and the person is able to keep a felony conviction off his or her record.
Section 410 probation must last 24 months. People who are placed on this kind of probation typically must submit to random drug testing, complete substance abuse treatment, pay fines and court costs, cooperate with scheduled visits to a probation officer, complete public service, and remain arrest free.
If a person has ever previously been convicted of, or placed on probation or court supervision for a controlled substance offense or cannabis charge, that person will not be eligible to receive 410 probation. Additionally, a person is eligible to receive 410 probation only once.
Section 550/10 of the Illinois Cannabis Control Act works the same way as section 410 of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act. The way section 410 works is described immediately above. If a person has been charged with the possession of a small amount of cannabis, and has not previously been convicted of or placed on probation or court supervision for a drug offense, that person may be eligible to be sentenced under section 550/10.
Just like section 410, section 550/10 allows a person to keep a conviction for a drug offense off his or her record if all the conditions of probation are fulfilled.
An issue that arises frequently in drug cases is whether the police violated a person’s rights when they seized the drugs in question. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protects against unreasonable searches and seizures of people’s “papers, houses, and effects.” Because most drug arrests derive from direct interaction with police, in the defense of any drug case it is critical to determine whether the police violated a person’s rights in order to obtain the evidence.
If drug evidence was seized illegally, a “Motion to Suppress Evidence” can be filed while the case is pending in court. This motion will ask the judge presiding over the case to decide, before trial, whether the police violated a person’s rights in seizing the drug evidence. If this motion is successful, the judge will enter an order barring the prosecution from using the illegally-seized evidence at trial. If the prosecution is barred from using the evidence during trial, usually the charges will be dismissed.
Illinois drug charges always become more serious and carry greater penalties when the prosecution alleges that drugs were possessed with the “intent to deliver.” Intent to deliver charges are brought against suspected drug dealers and other people who the police believe intend to illegally sell drugs for profit.
Frequently, intent to deliver charges are investigated by highly trained and specially dedicated narcotics police. These police have a wide array of law enforcement tools at their disposal. Their tools include search warrants, overhears (the use of court-approved wires, telephones and other eavesdropping devices to intercept conversations), visual surveillance, and “confidential informants.” It is not at all uncommon for police to work with people they have already arrested on drug charges to investigate and arrest other suspected dealers or “higher-ups” in a drug distribution organization.
In Lake County, dedicated drug enforcement and investigation units include the Lake County Metropolitan Enforcement Group (MEG) and the Waukegan Neighborhood Enforcement Team. In Cook County, such units include divisions of the Chicago Police Department and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area taskforce (HIDTA). Illinois police agencies also work directly with federal agencies, such as the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
What is perhaps most significant about delivery or intent to deliver drug charges are the penalties that come with them. Very often these offenses are “non-probationable” and carry stiff minimum prison terms.
A person who has been caught selling drugs on a street corner, or a person who has been charged with importing kilos of cocaine, is facing lengthy possible prison time. For this reason, it is important that the defense of a serious drug case is handled by an attorney who has significant experience with all aspects of drug crime litigation.
If you are charged with a drug offense, contact this office at (847) 587-5000 for a free initial office consultation to discuss your case.