Indiana Drug Defenses
Drug charges are serious legal matters in Indiana, and can carry severe penalties. If you are convicted of drug possession or drug trafficking, the consequences can affect the rest of your life. When you’re convicted of a drug offense in Indiana, some of the long-term consequences you might face include:
- A jail or prison sentence
- Expensive fines and court fees
- Being ordered to complete substance abuse treatment
- The stigma of being a convicted drug offender
- Loss of your job or trouble getting hired
- Inability to get federal financial aid to pay for college
- Effects on your immigration status if you’re a non-U.S. citizen, including loss of your immigration visa or green card, denial of your citizenship application, or deportation
A skilled Indianapolis drug defense lawyer can look at the evidence the prosecutor is using and find the weak spots. Your lawyer can then craft a defense strategy designed to attack those weak spots and get your case dismissed or penalties reduced.
A defense strategy will always be highly individualized. Your defense will be based on the facts, evidence, testimony, and arguments being used in your specific case. However, there are some common themes to defending Indiana drug charges that are explored on this page.
Possession of drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, or ecstasy are among the most common types of drug offenses seen in Indiana courts. Even a relatively minor possession offense can be a serious misdemeanor charge, and in some instances possession of a controlled substance can be a felony.
In order to convict you of a drug possession charge, a prosecutor typically must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you intentionally had the drug in your possession. To break that down a little more, a prosecutor has to prove:
- You were in possession
- Of a controlled substance
- That you knew was a controlled substance
- And you intended to possess it
All of those things must be proven to convict you. If the prosecutor can’t prove any one of those things, then you may be acquitted or have your case dismissed, or be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to have your charge or penalties reduced.
Sometimes police officers or lab techs might misidentify a substance and a false positive result may show that it’s a drug when it really isn’t. If your defense lawyer can show that the substance wasn’t actually an illegal drug, you may have a chance at fighting the charge. You also may have a chance at fighting the charge if you didn’t know you were in possession, for example if a friend slipped the drug into your bag without your knowledge to avoid getting caught with it themselves.
Another way to attack an allegation that you were in possession of drugs is to challenge that first idea that “You were in possession.” There are two ways you can be in possession of a drug: actual possession and constructive possession.
- Actual Possession — Actual possession is just what the term implies. You actually have the drug in your possession on your person. If you’re rolling a joint and have marijuana in your hand, that’s actual possession. It’s also actual possession if you have drugs in your pocket or in a bag you’re carrying.
- Constructive Possession — Constructive possession is a broader, and somewhat more vague idea. Constructive possession means that the drugs weren’t on your person, but were within your dominion and control. Dominion and control essentially means that you could take actual possession any time you want. Constructive possession could include having a packet of meth in your kitchen drawer, or in the glove box of your car. You own it and can retrieve it even though it’s not in your hands at that exact moment. You also might be in constructive possession of a controlled substance if you give it to a friend to hold for you, but it’s clear that you retain ownership and can take the drugs back at any time.
When constructive possession often can be challenged is when some other person had access to the place or property where the drugs were found. If you share an apartment with a roommate and the drugs were found in the kitchen or bathroom, your lawyer may be able to raise reasonable doubt that your roommate could have been the one who owned — and therefore constructively possessed — the drugs.
A lot of drug cases start with traffic stops. You get pulled over for some infraction like a broken taillight or an expired license plate, and then the officer asks to search your car. If the search turns up evidence of drugs, you may be arrested for possession, transportation, or some other Indiana drug offense.
However, the officer has to have a legitimate reason to pull you over in the first place. This is known as reasonable suspicion. The officer has to have a reasonable suspicion of some kind of violation or criminal activity in order to pull you over. An expired license plate is enough, but there has to be a reason that the officer can explain to a judge. That reason also has to be more than just a hunch.
If an officer pulls you over without a valid reason, then anything that flows from that stop can be called into question — including the search of your car and your arrest. A good Indiana drug defense lawyer will know how to attack the basis for a traffic stop and work to get a judge to declare the stop invalid. If the stop is invalid, evidence obtained because of the stop may be kept out of your court proceeding, and your lawyer may be able to get your charge dismissed or your penalty reduced.
Searches that turn up drugs, scales, cash, or other items associated with drug use or trafficking often are the cornerstones of a prosecution for an Indiana drug charge. However, you have a number of constitutional rights when it comes to investigators searching you or your property. Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution, you have protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. In essence, that means that if police want to search you or your property, they have to get a warrant, unless some very specific circumstances exist. Those include:
- You consented to the search
- There is evidence of the alleged crime in plain sight
- You were being arrested, in which case police are allowed to search you and any area within your arm’s reach
- An imminent danger to someone’s life or property required police to enter the premises
- Any member of the public could access the property, such as garbage you set out on the curb for collection
The Fourth Amendment also says that a search warrant has to be based on probable cause. In other words, the police have to have some evidence to connect you or the property to a crime. They also have to know at least generally what they’re looking for, such as evidence of a drug transaction. Police can’t use a search warrant to go on a fishing expedition in your home just because they might have a hunch that you possessed some heroin or sold some marijuana. Again, there has to be some evidence, which could include testimony from a confidential informant or evidence that police pulled out of your trash.
When your rights are violated because law enforcement officers searched you or your property without a warrant, or the search warrant was not based on probable cause, there are supposed to be consequences for that. It’s important to understand that your case won’t be automatically dismissed by a judge because of a bad search, but in general prosecutors aren’t supposed to be allowed to use evidence obtained through an illegal search.
An experienced Indiana criminal defense lawyer will scour the details of any searches or search warrants in your case to look for any way that your rights might have been violated. If your lawyer can argue that they were, then evidence obtained through the search may be kept out of court. That in turn may give your defense lawyer leverage to argue that your case should be dismissed, or to negotiate with prosecutors to have your charge or penalties reduced.