Criminal Issues for College Students Part 3: Drugs and the Law

Increasingly, the reality for students is that illegal drug use will in some way make an appearance in campus life. Students are usually well educated on the risks of drug use, both legal and personal, and most choose not to be involved. However, the campus culture can create an environment that not only exposes students to unlawful drugs, but also exposes them to potential criminal issues, regardless of whether they are actually involved with drugs. Given the impact of a drug conviction on a student’s future, this is a legal issue that absolutely requires the help of an experienced PA criminal defense attorney.

Simple Possession of Marijuana and Other Drugs
In Pennsylvania, possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. At present, Pennsylvania law contains no exception for prescribed medicinal marijuana, even if a valid prescription was issued out of state. Possession of other non-prescribed controlled substances is also a misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail and a $5000 fine for a first offense, and 3 years in jail and a $25000 fine for subsequent offenses.

All drug possession convictions in Pennsylvania carry a mandatory driver’s license suspension, which cannot be waived by the court. Like all misdemeanors, simple possession convictions cannot be expunged from a criminal record until a person reaches 70 years old. Additionally, for anyone whose continued education depends on receipt of Federal Student Aid, even minor drug convictions received while accepting student aid can temporarily or permanently disqualify the student from receiving future aid. As a result, even though the immediate penalties for possession of marijuana can be low, a student who is convicted of or pleads guilty to possessing even a small amount of marijuana could have their education interrupted and be saddled with a criminal record for their entire working life.

Although the social stigma surrounding marijuana and other drugs may be decreased in the college setting, the legal penalties are not. A drug-related conviction will be reflected on a person’s criminal record indefinitely and can severely limit many career paths. This is especially true for those who want to pursue careers in the medicine, law enforcement, education, social services, or any other field requiring a professional license. Although it is tempting to resolve a minor drug offense by just pleading guilty and accepting a short term of probation, the conviction will follow a student well into his/her future.

The help of an experienced criminal defense attorney is essential for anyone facing any drug charge, even if it seems relatively minor. In addition to exploring all possible defenses and suppression issues, an attorney may be able to help you resolve your case in a way that avoids a conviction altogether. If you are a student facing a minor drug charge and you are tempted to accept long term consequences to make a minor drug charge “go away” in the short term, it is crucial to speak with an attorney first.

Drug Delivery/Possession with Intent to Deliver
A criminal allegation involving the delivery of drugs, or possession with intent to deliver drugs, has potential to put the brakes on the future plans of an otherwise promising student. In Pennsylvania, a person who manufactures, delivers, or possesses with intent to manufacture or deliver, a controlled substance commits a Felony if they are not properly licensed to do so. Maximum penalties vary by the type and amount of controlled substance, but maximum penalties can be as high as 20 years in prison. Depending on the circumstances of the possession and delivery, and quantity of the controlled substance involved, those charged with felony drug offenses could face mandatory minimum sentences involving years in prison. Put simply, when law enforcement becomes involved in an investigation of drug delivery or possession with intent, the party is over. Students can find themselves facing life-changing penalties based on just the allegation that they delivered (or even shared without selling) controlled substances.

Moreover, a conviction for a felony drug offense can be a virtual career ender. This type of conviction can be an absolute disqualifier for military careers, corporate employment, government employment and professional licensing. Even finding basic employment can be difficult with a felony drug conviction, and Pennsylvania law does not permit expungement of felonies. Conviction may act as a disqualifier for Federal Student Aid, and many schools will summarily expel those convicted of felonies involving drugs.

For students facing investigation or criminal charges related to drug delivery, it is absolutely imperative to have legal counsel as soon as possible. School administrators, parents, friends and professors may be a helpful support network, but they cannot provide useful guidance on what to do when the stakes could be years in prison. There are many options, and an experienced defense attorney will review your case for defenses, search and seizure issues, and even alternatives to conviction or felony charges.

Unique Legal Issues for College Students
Due to their unique station in life, college students may face some unique situations when it comes to drugs and the law. For example, the college living situation is one not commonly encountered by non-students. It is normal for many students to share living space and common areas, and it is sometimes the case that one or more of them is involved in drug activity that others are not. When law enforcement becomes involved, there is a high risk of “guilt by association,” and innocent parties can easily be swept up. Additionally, where many students live in on-campus housing, the normal expectations of privacy can be blurred, and a difficult legal area is created with regard to search and seizure in campus housing. This is all complicated by the interplay between the various levels of “authority” that may be involved in a campus setting, including campus security, college administration, and law enforcement. When criminal charges result, only an experience criminal defense attorney can help sort out the unique legal issues involved.

Additionally, students are have unique pressures related to their position between adolescence and adulthood. A desire to avoid scrutiny from parents and school administrators may create a temptation to “go it alone” and make unwise choices about pending drug charges. Particularly where Mom and Dad are paying the tuition bill, the student may attempt to resolve the situation on his/her own and hope that parents and school administrators don’t find out. When the criminal allegation involves drugs, the pressure to avoid family scrutiny is even higher. This choice may sweep the problem under the rug in the short-term, but it creates much larger problems in the future. A free and absolutely confidential consultation with an attorney experienced in helping students may help the student come up with a strategy to bring family into the loop and avoid serious long-term problems.

If you are a student and you have been charged with a criminal offense, no matter how minor, you need an experienced attorney. Our attorneys can help you navigate and understand the effect of a criminal charge on your future, rather than simply focusing on the immediate consequences of the current case. Contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help protect your future.

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