Do First-Time Drug Offenders Go to Jail?

February 28th, 2022 by Attorney Dan Carman

Do First-Time Drug Offenders Go to Jail

Based on the latest media 24/7 spin, every major city in the country is suffering from drug abuse, drug-related crime, and drug addiction problems. It’s no surprise that lots of laws have also been passed increasing penalties for illegal drug activity and related arrests. So, for the average person, it’s a common assumption that a first-time drug offense could result in time in jail, depending on the severity of the charge and details of the arrest. Interestingly, the real answer varies considerably from state to state and from case to case. Kentucky, for example, defines punishment for a first drug offense as either a misdemeanor or a felony, with incarceration possible. Yet in California, in comparison, a first-time penalty would likely result in probation, drug treatment school and community service. In short, consequences for the first-time offense vary considerably, and Kentucky currently takes a very stern approach to the matter.

What Happens on Your First Drug Charge?

Aside from likely being arrested when caught, as well as booked and put into the criminal system, the treatment one receives on a first drug charge depends a lot on the circumstances of the individual case and how it is handled. First, law enforcement and the local prosecutor have to decide whether there is enough evidence to bring a case and win it. After all, prosecution and trials do have their risk of being lost. Ideally, prosecutors want cases where their argument is pretty solid, versus very thin cases that they could lose. How strong the case is depends a lot on how well law enforcement does its job. To the extent that the officers are able to find convincing evidence or get a suspect to confess, then it’s very likely charges will be filed and the suspect arraigned in court.

On arraignment, the suspect then has a choice: plead innocent and fight the case or plea bargain for a lower sentence, essentially agreeing to the charges and making things easier for the prosecution and court to process. On a first charge, a suspect can usually expect that bail is possible if the charge is only for possession and involves a small amount. If charged with dealing or there are enhancements (for example, you used a firearm, someone was hurt, or you resisted arrest), bail could be denied or be set at a very significant amount.

Do First-Time Drug Offenders Go to Jail?

In Kentucky, charges vary, and prosecutors will apply in each case what makes sense and is likely to win in court. These charges are associated with possession, trafficking, conspiracy and violence. Where minor possession is involved, a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense is likely, with a potential jail sentence of 90 days to a year at most. On the other hand, if the charge or charges constitute felonies, one could be facing one to five years for a Class D felony or 5 to 10 years for a Class C felony. Generally, charges involving more than 8 ounces of an illegal drug will trip the felony threshold, especially if a sale is involved (Kentucky Revised Statutes Section 218A.010 et seq). Over 8 ounces is deemed more than necessary for recreational use and creates an assumption of intent to sell, under the law.

However, certain drug types get more of a reaction under the law regardless of amount. Cocaine, for example, turns into a felony, regardless of whether for possession or sale (Kentucky Revised Statutes 218A.010 et seq). The same goes for heroin. Both of these drugs are treated far more seriously and are seen as a threat to society, even with a first offense. Higher penalties apply in these felonies when the charge is associated with activity near a school or selling to a minor.

Note that if a defendant is charged under federal law, things are much more serious. The federal criminal system generally does not need to prove intent. The prosecution only needs to show that the law was broken and to what extent. Many federal drug charges, even for first-time offenders, can carry serious penalties as charges tend to be multiple instead of a single offense. A federal misdemeanor at the lowest drug charge level, for example, requires 15 days of prison after one prior conviction. Consulting a skilled drug charge lawyer is vital in these situations. An experienced defense is essential to reduce charges and seek an agreed plea in most cases, as the win rate of federal prosecutors is near 97% on average.

What Happens After Conviction?

If found guilty in trial or via a guilty plea, then the court will conclude the trial phase of the matter and move to sentencing. For a first offense that is non-violent, the defendant will likely still remain on bail until sentencing. However, the court could otherwise order the defendant held if the case involved someone getting hurt from the crime. In the sentencing, the suspect may try to apologize and make a statement asking for leniency, which the court might consider, but the prosecution will also make a statement and may bring up witnesses hurt by the defendant’s actions. The court will then impose a sentence based on the law and the case, which will be final unless the case is appealed. In most cases, an appeal is not likely as there needs to be a serious mistake by the court in application of the law. With sentencing complete, the defendant will then be incarcerated to serve his or her sentence.

The Impact of a Good Defense Against a Drug Charge

The most basic forms of defense for a first-time offender are (1) the public defender’s office or (2) going it alone. Both options are poor. Representing oneself is unwise, because the procedural law alone is technical and a lot of mistakes could be made by a rookie. Relying on a public defender is a poor choice because their offices are overworked, they spend little time investigating cases, and they use plea bargaining as the primary means of moving cases along.

Mounting a good defense, like that offered by Dan Carman and Lexington Defense, makes a huge difference. At the procedural level, Dan Carman can argue about mistakes made by law enforcement that could change your case dramatically. Dan Carman can also argue at the merit level why the case shouldn’t be a felony, a misdemeanor or a case at all, aggressively pointing out why bringing the case is a mistake. This kind of experience is critical and makes a huge difference to the outcome for defendants. When personal freedom, name and reputation matter, a solid defense in court on a first-time drug charge is a must. To find out more, contact Dan Carman’s office at (859) 685-1055.

Attorney Dan Carman

Attorney Dan CarmanFocusing on criminal matters, Mr. Carman is admitted to practice law in all Courts of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, and the United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit. He is a member of the American, Kentucky, and Fayette County Bar Associations. Mr. Carman also worked as a prosecutor, as well as a legal assistance attorney. Attorney Dan Carman can help you with any criminal defense matters you may need including; DUI, drug, and weapons charges, trespassing, traffic violations and more. [ Attorney Bio ]