I do believe that honesty is the best policy, but there are often situations in the criminal process in which it is better for a person to remain silent, or forgo answering questions, instead of being honest. A man was recently stopped in Florida after he allegedly cut off an unmarked police car. The man and his vehicle were searched, and the police found 22 grams of heroin, 5.3 grams of cocaine, and $2,316 in cash. The man was arrested, charged with drug possession, and bail was set at $242,000.00. The online article did not specifically state the charges that were filed, but I am sure that they would have been felony offenses of possession with intent to distribute. Aside from the relatively large quantities of drugs, how did the police know, or at least have reason to suspect, that the man intended to sell the drugs? He listed his occupation on the arrest report as "drug dealer." An admission is pretty damning.
Personal Use Versus Intent to Deliver
In Pennsylvania, drug possession charges are either misdemeanors or felonies, and the primary difference in the charges is based upon the person's intended use. If the person intends to personally use the drugs, then a misdemeanor charge is filed. However, if the police believe that a person possessed drugs with the intent to deliver or sell them, then the officer files a felony charge.
How does the officer know the person's intent? Unlike the man noted above, most suspects do not admit to the police officer that the person is a drug dealer by trade and thereby possessed the controlled substances with the intent to sell them. Without direct evidence, the police rely on circumstantial evidence to prove an intent to deliver drugs. The quantity of the drugs is a very important factor. If a person has pounds of marijuana, even if the person is a habitual smoker, it is difficult to argue that all the weed is for personal use. Trying to take the Costco or Sam's Club argument, meaning an argument that the person just buys in bulk to reduce the cost per unit and save money, can be used, but it is not overly effective if the quantity of drugs is high. Other drug paraphernalia items, such as cash, owe sheets, a lock box, scales, and baggies that are found near the drugs also support a charge of possession with intent to distribute.
Many of my Penn State students are caught with a small amount of marijuana and scales, but those scales are often owned so that the person can weigh the weed that was purchased and make sure that the dealer was not cheating on the quantity. Not so surprisingly, some drug dealers sell bags that are light on the weight. Just having a scale should not be sufficient evidence to justify a possession with intent to deliver charge. In these situations, the student is charged with Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. However, if a college student is found in possession of a few thousand dollars in cash, such evidence does lend itself to a view that the student was selling drugs. Most college students do not have large amounts of money, and most people involved in legal businesses do not have large sums of cash lying around. Also, everyone knows that money does not grow on trees, so that argument would not work either.