Minnesota has made heroin possession, regardless of the amount, a serious felony offense. Those found to be in possession may face a range of penalties depending on the amounts and circumstances of their offenses. Heroin is highly addictive, and its use is climbing. Legislators have reacted by providing harsh penalties for heroin possession. A criminal defense attorney in MN may work to negotiate a plea for his or her client that avoids prison time.
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Heroin Possession Offenses and Penalties
Regardless of the amount of heroin that a person is caught with, he or she may face prison time. The felony levels are determined by the amount of heroin, and the penalties are as follows:
- Fifth-degree felony for possessing less than 3 grams of heroin — up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines
- Third-degree felony for possessing between 3 and 5.9 grams of heroin — up to 20 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines
- Second-degree felony for possessing between 6 and 24.9 grams of heroin — up to 25 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines
- First-degree felony for possessing 25 grams of heroin or more — up to 30 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines
While the penalties for heroin possession in the state are severe, a criminal defense attorney in MN may still be able to mount an aggressive defense to the charges for his or her client.
Sentencing Alternatives: Drug Court
Every heroin possession case is different, and there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to defending against heroin possession allegations. Minnesota has a drug court program through which eligible offenders may attend treatment while serving probationary sentences in lieu of prison. Drug court is a good alternative sentence for people who are addicted to heroin and who meet the eligibility guidelines. Those who successfully complete drug court will avoid prison time. Those who do not may have the prison sentences for their offenses imposed.
A criminal defense attorney in MN may negotiate other pleas for people who are ineligible for drug court. In order to secure the best possible outcomes for their clients, attorneys may investigate what happened and may gather mitigating evidence to present to the assigned prosecutors. Attorneys may secure sentencing agreements that cap the amount of prison time their clients might face. They might also work to secure pleas to lesser charges. When there are evidentiary problems, attorneys may be able to negotiate dismissals of the charges in some cases.
Potential Evidentiary Problems
There are a number of different evidentiary problems that sometimes arise in heroin possession cases. In some incidents, law enforcement officers may conduct warrantless searches of people, cars or homes. If an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment does not apply, a warrantless search and all of the evidence the officer gather from it may be suppressed. The state would not be able to use the evidence against the defendant at trial, and the charges would likely be dismissed by the prosecutor.
Other problems that occasionally occur include when officers stop vehicles when they do not have reasonable suspicion that the people were committing or had committed any crimes, including minor traffic violations. Sometimes, officers have warrants, but the warrants that they have obtained are impermissibly broad. Finally, testing errors sometimes occur, leading a substance to be misidentified as heroin.
A criminal defense attorney in MN will carefully evaluate everything about his or her client’s case in order to try to spot any testing issues or constitutional problems with the stop, search, seizure and evidence. If the lawyer finds that problems occurred, he or she may file motions challenging the admissibility of the evidence and then litigate the motions in pre-trial hearings before the court. If the attorney wins the client’s motions hearing, some or all of the evidence may be suppressed. The prosecutor may then agree to dismiss the charges or to offer a better plea deal than what the prosecutor had previously offered.
In some cases, prosecutors will choose not to extend plea offers. In others, defendants may not choose to accept the offers extended to them. In every case, a defendant has the right to choose to go to trial on the charges that are filed against him or her. An attorney may advise his or her client about whether or not a trial is in the client’s best interests, but the ultimate decision is up to the defendant. When people decide to go to trial, they should be aware of the penalties that they might face if they are found guilty as charged. Heroin possession is not treated lightly by the courts.