First, I need to emphasize that people should not possess anything that is illegal, be it drugs, a fake ID, stolen property, or any other form of contraband. However, if you are going to possess such things, leave them at home when you are heading to court. Most Pennsylvania court facilities require a person to pass through a security checkpoint, and some of those checkpoints use X-ray machines. Simply stated, taking drugs or contraband with you to court is not a good idea.
A New Jersey man recently appeared in court and drew the attention of court security because he and his friends allegedly smelled strongly of marijuana. The security officers found 43 bags of heroin and $400.00 in cash on the man. The man was then arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute. In Pennsylvania, the charge of Possession With Intent to Deliver under 35 P.S. 780-113(a)(30) would be an ungraded felony, and because the drug involved is heroin, the maximum sentence permitted by law for a conviction would be 15 years incarceration and a $250,000.00 fine.
How Does a Prosecutor Prove That a Person Possessed With Intent to Deliver?
As a State College criminal defense lawyer, I routinely handle drug cases in which the Centre County drug task force or other law enforcement officers execute a search warrant for a Penn State dorm room or apartment, and the warrant leads to the discovery of marijuana, cocaine, prescription pills, other drugs, or related paraphernalia. The issue in such cases is often whether or not the police will file misdemeanor possession charges or felony possession with intent to deliver charges. The prospective client almost always questions me about how the police or prosecutor can prove that the person intended to sell the drugs instead of intending to use the drugs. In a case like this, direct evidence would be an admission or written statement given to the police in which the person expressly admits that the drugs were possessed with the intent to be delivered. However, people often do not admit to anything, therefore the prosecution's case would require the presentation of circumstantial evidence and not direct evidence.
Various factors are considered by a judge or a jury in determining whether a person intended to deliver or sell drugs. One of the primary factors is the quantity of drug found. A person that smokes marijuana may be in possession of a few grams or possibly even an ounce of marijuana, but a person that is caught with 2 pounds of marijuana is more likely to be a person that is dealing weed. Many possession with intent to distribute charges are based upon evidence that the person was selling drugs, such as baggies for packaging, owe sheets evidencing payments and debts, large sums of cash, scales, and lockboxes or safes. A Penn State student that has $5,000.00 in cash near drugs gives rise to an inference that the student was selling drugs. In many Centre County cases, if the person was recently caught distributing drugs, then the police will try to admit evidence of the recent drug deliveries as proof that the other drugs were possessed with the intent to deliver as well. Whether or not the evidence is sufficient to prove that the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is up to a jury.