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Arizona Drug Crime Laws

In Arizona, most drug crimes are classified as felony offenses. You can face serious charges if you manufacture, use, possess, sell, transport, or import dangerous or narcotic drugs for which you do not have a valid prescription.

Drug offenses carry severe penalties in the state. Law enforcement officers aggressively investigate drug offenses because of the large number of people who abuse drugs and the state’s proximity to the border.

If you are convicted of a felony drug offense, you might be sentenced to serve a long prison term, pay substantial fines, undergo probation and mandatory treatment, and other penalties. The sentence you might face will depend on your past criminal record, the type or types of drugs for which you are charged, and whether or not you intended to distribute or sell them.

Here is an overview of drug crimes in Arizona and the potential defenses that might be available to you.

Types of Drug Crimes in Arizona

Arizona has multiple laws that cover different activities involving criminal drug offenses. Some of the drug crimes in Arizona include the following:

  • Using or possessing a dangerous drug under ARS 13-3407 – Class 4 felony
  • Possessing precursor chemicals or equipment to manufacture drugs other than methamphetamines – Class 3 felony
  • Possessing a dangerous drug with the intent to distribute – Class 2 felony
  • Manufacturing a dangerous drug – Class 2 felony
  • Administering a dangerous drug to another person – Class 3 felony
  • Obtaining a dangerous drug by using deceit or fraud – Class 3 felony
  • Transporting or importing a dangerous drug into Arizona from another state – Class 2 felony
  • Cultivating more than the allowed number of marijuana plants – Class 6 to Class 2 felony under ARS 13-3405, depending on the total weight
  • Using or possessing a narcotic drug without a valid prescription – Class 4 felony under ARS 13-3408
  • Possessing a narcotic drug with the intent to distribute – Class 2 felony
  • Possessing precursor chemicals or equipment to manufacture narcotic drugs – Class 3 felony
  • Manufacturing narcotic drugs – Class 2 felony
  • Administering a narcotic drug to someone else – Class 2 felony
  • Obtaining or procuring a narcotic drug by fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation – Class 3 felony
  • Transporting or importing narcotic drugs into Arizona – Class 2 felony

Depending on the type of controlled prescription drug that you might be caught possessing without a valid prescription and its amount, you can be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony.

Drug Weights and Possession with the Intent to Sell

Even if you possessed a large quantity of drugs that you intended to be for personal use, you could be charged with possession with the intent to sell based on their weights as follows:

  • More than two pounds of marijuana
  • More than one gram of heroin
  • More than nine grams of methamphetamines
  • More than 4 grams of PCP
  • More than 50 doses or 1/2 milliliter of LSD
  • More than 3/4 gram of crack cocaine

The threshold amounts of drugs that can cause you to be charged with possession with intent to sell are found in ARS 13-3401(36).

Defenses to Drug Crimes Charges

Facing drug charges does not mean that you will be convicted. In many cases, it is possible to mount a vigorous defense to allegations of drug crimes. Drug defense lawyers start by carefully examining all facets of their client’s cases to identify weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and areas that might be challenged.

The defenses that might be available will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. Some common types of defenses that might be raised are detailed below.

Illegal Stops, Searches, and Seizures

Everyone has constitutional rights against unreasonable stops, searches, and seizures under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. When an officer stops a vehicle, searches a vehicle, home, or person, or seizes evidence, they must adhere to specific rules that govern how and when those actions can be completed.

If the officer does not follow the laws, any evidence that was seized as a result of the illegal stop, search, or seizure might be deemed inadmissible, meaning that the prosecutor would not be able to use it against you.  This is called the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine.

Police officers cannot randomly stop vehicles other than at sobriety checkpoints. If an officer does not have a reasonable suspicion to believe that you committed a crime or traffic violation but pulled over your car, your lawyer might be able to challenge any evidence the police gathered against you as a result of the illegal stop.

Officers must also generally get search warrants before searching homes except under limited circumstances. If an officer found drugs while conducting an illegal search, the drugs might be deemed inadmissible against you.

Officers must also not extend stops of vehicles longer than necessary to investigate the reason for which they were stopped. In some drug cases in Arizona, police officers illegally extend how long routine traffic stops take to wait for a drug dog to arrive. This type of situation might also result in an evidentiary motion seeking the suppression of any drugs or other evidence discovered as a result of the illegal seizure and search.

A drug defense lawyer can carefully review video footage, police reports, dispatch records, and other evidence from the time of your stop or arrest to determine any constitutional defenses that might be available to you.

If the police appeared to have engaged in unconstitutional conduct while investigating your case, your attorney might file evidentiary motions seeking the suppression of some or all of the evidence against you. If successful, this type of motion might result in a dismissal of your charges.

Confidential Informant Issues

Many drug cases involving distribution or sales are charged after the police use information from confidential informants. These are people who agree to purchase drugs to gather evidence that sales are occurring. However, confidential informants frequently agree to provide information in exchange for avoiding charges in their own cases, making their credibility suspect.

In some cases, police officers have regular confidential informants that they use in multiple cases, and they might pay them money for providing information.

During discovery, an attorney can ask for all records from the police department about their agreements with the confidential informants used in a case and challenge an informant’s testimony and credibility during cross-examination.

Chain of Custody Problems

In drug cases, police officers must gather the drugs, store them properly, and transport them to the forensic lab for testing. Whenever the drugs change hands along the way, the police must keep documentation showing who had possession of them at each stage.

The prosecutor must prove the chain of custody before drugs can be admitted into evidence at trial. If the police failed to appropriately document who had custody of the drugs at any point from the time they were seized until when they reached the forensic lab, the charges against you might be dismissed. Similarly, drugs sometimes go missing from evidence rooms at the police station. If the drugs seized in your case are missing, your charges could be dismissed.

Other Drug Crime Defenses

Some other types of defenses that might be available in your case include the following:

  • The police planted drugs on you.
  • The drugs belonged to someone else.
  • You had no knowledge that drugs were present.
  • You were entrapped by the police.
  • The police planted drugs on your person, in your car, or in your home.
  • You were falsely identified.
  • The lab analyst committed errors.
  • You had an alibi.

The defenses that might be available will differ, depending on the facts of your case.

Why it is Important to Hire a Drug Defense Attorney for Drug Charges

Criminal defense lawyers undergo years of education and ongoing training to understand how to properly defend their clients against drug charges. Cases involving drug crimes allegations are frequently complex and might require a vigorous defense strategy.

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