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Cases Involving Drugs


Drug cases give rise to many issues, and many possible defenses and results. These cases can range from possession for personal use of a substance, to possession for purposes of sale, to drug trafficking, and manufacturing, to attempted possession. In Georgia drug offenses are known as Violations of the Georgia Controlled Substances Act, or VGCSA, and are specified in Title 16 of the Georgia Code. If you are convicted of almost any drug offense, Georgia law requires the suspension of your driver's license. However Georgia law (O.C.G.A. 40-5-76) also provides that  a judge presiding in a drug court division, mental health court division, or veterans court division may order the Department of Driver Services (DDS) to restore a defendant's driver's license that has been or should be suspended, or  suspend such license, or issue a limited driving permit with whatever conditions the court determines to be appropriate under the circumstances as a reward or sanction to the defendant's behavior in such court division. Further, a judge presiding in regular criminal or municipal courts, may order the DDS to restore a defendant's driver's license that has been or should be suspended, or issue a limited driving permit if the offense for which the defendant was convicted did not directly relate to the operation of a motor vehicle. However, such judge also has the power to order the DDS to suspend a defendant's driver's license that could have been suspended pursuant to Code Section 40-5-75 as a consequence of the defendant's violation of the terms of his or her probation.
 
Possession of an ounce or more of cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, ecstacy, "Molly", etc., is considered not merely possession but drug trafficking. Upon conviction of drug trafficking, the trial judge is required to sentence the defendant to a mandatory and extremely severe prison sentence. Thus, it is important to consult a Georgia criminal lawyer to explore all possible defenses, reduction of charges (plea bargaining) as well as the several alternatives detailed below.
 
On the other hand,  the 2012 Sentencing Reform Act, HB1176, has greatly decreased the maximum penalty of imprisonment for possession of less than one gram of certain drugs to three years or less. Less than one gram is considered a "residue" case, such as when an individual is arrested for possession of a previously smoked, burned out crack or meth pipe, or crumbs of the substance. Practically speaking, this means an individual arrested for several grams of illegal drugs can, under the right circumstances, plea bargain his or her case to a guilty plea of less than one gram of drugs and therefore a lesser maximum sentence. This would be particularly valuable if the individual wanted to take advantage of Georgia's conditional discharge or first offender statutes. Further details regarding this possible disposition involve quite a bit more explanation and are beyond the scope of this presentation but are worth further discussion with us.
 
Motions to Suppress 

Usually the strongest evidence (and thus the most important for the prosecution) is the drugs themselves. Therefore, the first goal of the defense is the possible suppression of this evidence. This would prevent the drugs from being used as evidence against the accused in court.

A motion to suppress evidence is based upon the idea that evidence has been illegally obtained as the product of a search or seizure, that violates the U.S. Constitution, the Georgia Constitution, or both. The trial court decides this issue after a hearing wherein the criminal defense lawyer questions the officers or other witnesses involved in the case, and argues to the trial court why the evidence should be suppressed. If this motion is successful, it often cripples the State's case and may result in dismissal of the charges.
 
There are different laws that govern whether or not a search is illegal, depending upon what is searched and who does the searching. For example, the law recognizes a greater expectation of privacy in a person's house, as opposed to a person's car. This is because cars and their contents are exposed to the public, and because of their mobility. An experienced Georgia criminal defense lawyer can spot these issues, analyze them properly, and make a forceful argument on your behalf in court.
 
Forfeiture 
 
The police sometimes try to take away or "seize" from the defendant, materials considered tools or rewards of the drug trade in what is called a forfeiture action. This can include cars, homes, cash, phones, boats, and any other asset. A skilled criminal defense attorney can work to protect assets from forfeiture. Further, depending on the circumstances, these items can also be used as a bargaining chip with the prosecution in regards to a more favorable disposition of the criminal drug case.

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Sentencing Alternatives


Trial courts throughout Georgia now recognize that treatment and rehabilitation is far more appropriate than jail or prison in helping people deal with a drug problem. If you have been arrested for a drug-related offense, there are different treatment options, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the circumstances of the case, alternatives to jail, prison sentences, or convictions, can include Diversion, Pretrial Intervention (PTI), Drug Court, First Offender, Work Release, and Conditional Discharge. Each of these choices has different requirements for successful completion and the accused may be eligible for one or more of these alternatives. These alternatives almost always require drug counseling and random screens, and sometimes include several months of residential rehabilitation treatment, community service, fines or fees, and letters of recommendation. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who cares about your personal situation will be able to help you determine what alternaves are available and which option is best.

Drug Court
 
A drug court is a special court given the responsibility of handling cases involving drug abusers through a demanding and extensive supervision and treatment program. Many Georgia counties have not yet instituted a drug court program. The specifics of the programs that do exist will vary from county to county. However each program will typically be separated into phases, where the participant will earn more freedoms with the passage of time and successful completion of the preceding phase. Sometimes a period of incarceration is required. Also if a participant violates a drug court rule, say by having a positive drug screen (illegal drugs or alcohol in body), that participant could be punished by a few days in jail, being held back a stage in the program, or being expelled from the program. However, in some counties and situations, when the participant successfully completes the program, the case will be dismissed. Thus, there are pros and cons to sentencing alternatives and to drug court. In fact, some of these alternatives can be quite difficult and result in high drop out rates. If you or someone you care about has a drug case, please contact the Law Offices of Bert W. Cohen for a no cost, no obligation, confidential consultation.

The Law Offices of Bert W. Cohen 321 Lawrence Street Marietta, Georgia 30060 In Metro Atlanta: (770)422-5101.