How a Tennessee Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help if You’re Facing Jail Time for Drug Charges
How a Tennessee Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help if You’re Facing Jail Time for Drug Charges
If you have been arrested on drug charges in Tennessee, having a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer on your side can make all the difference in the outcome of your case. Drug crimes carry serious penalties in Tennessee, including lengthy jail sentences for many offenses. Even a conviction on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge can result in up to 11 months and 29 days behind bars.
With so much at stake, it’s critical to have an experienced drug crimes defense attorney fighting for you. A skilled lawyer understands Tennessee’s complex drug laws and sentencing guidelines. They can identify any weaknesses in the prosecution’s case and build the strongest defense possible to avoid a conviction or at least reduce the penalties if convicted.
This article provides an overview of Tennessee drug crime laws and penalties and explains how an attorney can defend your rights every step of the way.
Drug Possession Charges in Tennessee
Simply having an illegal drug in your possession constitutes a crime in Tennessee. The state has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to drug possession. The potential penalties depend on the type and amount of the drug:
- Marijuana – Possession of 1/2 ounce or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a max $2,500 fine. Anything over 1/2 ounce is a felony with 1 to 6 years in prison and fines up to $5,000.
- Cocaine, Meth, Heroin – Possession of these drugs in any amount is a felony with 1 to 6 years in prison and a max $5,000 fine.
- Prescription Drugs – Illegal possession of drugs like Xanax, Oxycontin, Vicodin etc. carries 1 to 6 years in prison and a max $3,000 fine.
With marijuana possession being a misdemeanor in small amounts, it’s the only drug charge where you may avoid felony penalties. But even a misdemeanor conviction stays on your record and can hurt job and other prospects.
This is why it’s so important to have an attorney challenge the charges. For example, they may argue the search leading to your arrest was illegal, the substance wasn’t actually an illegal drug, or the amount was below the legal limit – any of which could get the charges dismissed.
Consequences of a Drug Distribution Conviction
Selling or distributing illegal drugs comes with much harsher punishments in Tennessee. Like possession, the penalties depend on the type and amount of drug:
- Marijuana – Selling any amount is a felony with 2 to 12 years in prison and fines up to $100,000.
- Cocaine, Meth, Heroin – Starts at 15 to 60 years in prison and fines up to $500,000 for smaller amounts. Trafficking large quantities brings life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
- Prescription Drugs – 2 to 12 years in prison and fines up to $100,000.
With potential life imprisonment or even execution on the table, having an aggressive defense attorney is absolutely vital if you’re facing drug distribution charges. The prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that you possessed the drugs with intent to sell or distribute. Your lawyer will closely examine all the evidence to look for any chance to raise doubt and avoid a conviction.
How a Lawyer Defends Tennessee Drug Crime Cases
From the moment you hire them, an experienced drug crimes attorney goes to work building the strongest possible defense against the charges. Here are some of the most important ways they can help:
- Examine the Evidence – The lawyer will scrutinize all the evidence collected by police, including any drugs, drug paraphernalia, photos, videos, written statements, field test results etc. They look for any irregularities that could prove the evidence inadmissible.
- Challenge the Search – If the police lacked probable cause for the search leading to your arrest, the evidence could be thrown out. Your lawyer will review the warrant (if any), police reports, and other details to identify any 4th Amendment violations.
- Negotiate with the Prosecutor – Prosecutors know that drug cases often have vulnerabilities. An attorney may be able to negotiate dropping or reducing charges in exchange for a guilty plea.
- Prepare a Strong Defense – Viable defense strategies can include arguing you didn’t knowingly possess the drugs, the drugs were for personal use only, police conducted an illegal search, faulty lab tests produced inaccurate results, and more.
- Represent You in Court – If a plea deal can’t be reached, your lawyer will fight for an acquittal during a trial. They will present evidence and witnesses supporting your defense and work to undermine the prosecutor’s case.
- Seek Sentencing Alternatives – If found guilty, your attorney will advocate for alternatives to incarceration like probation, drug court, community service, rehabilitation programs, etc.
Common Defenses in Tennessee Drug Cases
Some of the most common defenses used to fight drug charges in Tennessee include:
- Illegal Search – Evidence is inadmissible if obtained through an unconstitutional search without probable cause or a warrant. Your lawyer will scrutinize the circumstances of the search.
- Invalid Traffic Stop – Any evidence found after an invalid traffic stop gets thrown out. The cause for the initial stop must be lawful.
- Faulty Field Tests – Field tests for drugs are notoriously unreliable, producing false positives. Your lawyer can challenge the results.
- No Proof of Intent to Distribute – For distribution charges, the state must prove you intended to sell the drugs. Lack of baggies, scales, cash, ledgers, and other dealer tools can defeat this.
- No Knowledge of the Drugs – You can’t be guilty of possession if you didn’t know about the drugs. For example, they were hidden in a borrowed car.
- Entrapment – It’s illegal for police to coerce you into committing a drug crime you wouldn’t otherwise commit. A lawyer can argue you were entrapped.
- Illegal Lab Testing – Your attorney will examine the drug lab’s methods to check for errors in testing or handling of evidence that could compromise results.
- Mistaken Identity – Sometimes police arrest the wrong person. An attorney can argue you were misidentified as the perpetrator.
How a Lawyer Can Reduce Your Sentence
If convicted on drug charges, having a lawyer’s help at sentencing is invaluable. Their job is to advocate for the lightest sentence possible under the circumstances. Strategies may include:
- Highlight Mitigating Factors – Your lack of criminal history, family obligations, employment, and other positive aspects of your life may persuade the judge to be more lenient.
- Obtain Favorable Testimonials – Your lawyer can have friends, employers, clergy etc. testify or write letters vouching for your character.
- Get Evidence of Rehabilitation – Entering a drug rehab program before sentencing shows the court you’re committed to positive change.
- Request an Alternative Sentence – Your lawyer will petition for options like house arrest, probation, community service, drug court, or rehab instead of jail time.
- Argue for Concurrent Sentences – If convicted of multiple charges, concurrent sentences allow them to be served at the same time rather than back-to-back.
- File Post-Conviction Appeals – Your lawyer can appeal the conviction or sentence if errors are found in the court proceedings or trial.
While there are no guarantees, an experienced drug crimes lawyer knows how to effectively argue for the most favorable outcome possible if you are convicted. This can make years of difference when it comes to how much time you ultimately serve.
Will a Drug Conviction Affect Your Driver’s License in Tennessee?
A drug conviction in Tennessee can definitely impact your driving privileges. Some examples:
- A second conviction for simple marijuana possession leads to a 6-month driver’s license suspension.
- Any felony drug conviction results in a 1-year suspension of your license.
- Three or more drug-related DUI convictions will lead to your license being revoked for 5 years.
- Four or more simple drug possession convictions means you lose your license for 5 years.
As you can see, Tennessee takes drug crimes and driving seriously. An attorney may be able to negotiate with prosecutors to avoid license suspension or arrange for a restricted license so you can still drive to work, school, medical appointments etc.
Can a Tennessee Drug Conviction Be Expunged?
Tennessee does allow for some drug crime convictions to be expunged from your criminal record. However, it depends on the exact charge and other factors:
- Misdemeanor simple marijuana or drug paraphernalia possession charges can potentially be expunged.
- Felony possession may only be expunged if it was your first drug offense with no other felony record.
- Drug distribution charges generally can NOT be expunged regardless of circumstances.
- Your record must be clean for 5 years before expungement of a drug charge is possible.
- The court must determine you were rehabilitated and expungement is in the public interest.
If eligible, expungement means your conviction is essentially wiped clean from your criminal record. This can help restore your civil rights and make it easier to find jobs, housing, and avoid stigma. An attorney experienced in expungements can guide you through the process start to finish.
How Much Does a Tennessee Drug Crime Lawyer Cost?
The cost to hire a drug crimes lawyer in Tennessee can vary substantially based on factors like:
- Your Location – Attorneys in bigger cities like Nashville generally have higher rates.
- Lawyer Experience – Lawyers with more drug case experience often charge more.
- Case Complexity – More serious, complex felonies cost more to defend than simple misdemeanors.
- If It Goes to Trial – Trials require many extra hours of a lawyer’s time versus plea deals.
- Retainer Fee – This upfront fee ranges from $2,000-$5,000 for misdemeanors or $5,000-$20,000+ for felonies.
- Hourly Rate – Some lawyers bill an hourly rate ranging from around $100-$300 per hour.
Don’t let the costs deter you from seeking legal representation. Not hiring an attorney because you think it saves money could cost you way more in the long run if convicted. Many lawyers offer payment plans to make the costs more manageable.
Work with a Nashville Drug Crimes Defense Attorney Today
If you or someone you love is facing drug charges in Tennessee, this primer gives you an overview of the laws, penalties, and how a lawyer can defend your rights. The costs and consequences of a conviction are too steep not to have experienced legal counsel on your side. Don’t leave your fate to chance. Consult with a qualified Tennessee drug crimes attorney as soon as possible about the best defense for your particular case.