In Minnesota, the sale, distribution, and possession of illegal drugs is a felony offense, but possession does not always result in a criminal conviction. In some cases, charges can be dismissed when search and seizure laws are violated.
Defending Against Drug Possession Charges
Although Minnesota drug laws are harsh, felony criminal charges for drug possession may be dismissed in certain cases. Fourth Amendment rights guarantee the right to due process of law, including lawful search and seizure procedures before an arrest. Violation of search and seizure laws are common defenses used by drug attorneys against felony drug charges in Minnesota. While some drug defenses challenge evidence, facts, or testimony in the case, others question procedural errors by police officers or legal jurisdictions.
In Minnesota, felony drug charges include the manufacturing, sale, distribution, and possession of illegal drugs including heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and some prescription drugs. Although possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor, possession of more than one pound of marijuana or drug with any amount of THC concentrate is a felony. Penalties for felony drug convictions range from 5 to 30 years in prison and very steep fines. In some cases, charges may be reduced or even dismissed, if certain circumstances exist:
Illegal Search and Seizure
The Fourth Amendment protects against unlawful drug searches and seizures. Illegal drugs found in “plain view,” during a traffic stop, such as a car’s seat, dashboard, or floorboard, may be legally seized and used as evidence. However, drugs found in hidden areas such as a car’s trunk can not be used as legal evidence. If a suspect does not give police officers permission to search hidden areas, any drugs seized are not allowed as evidence, and the case is dismissed.
Drugs Belong to Another Person
In felony drug cases, the prosecution must prove the illegal drugs belong to the defendant. If this can’t be proven in a court of law, a drug possession charge may be dismissed. When illegal drugs are found in a car or home, it may be difficult to prove that the drugs do not belong to other passengers or inhabitants.
In some cases, a defendant may claim that drugs were planted in his/her car or home by police. Even if true, proving this can be difficult since the court puts a lot of weight on a police officer’s sworn testimony. If planted evidence is suspected, a defense drug attorney can file a motion with the court to have the police officer’s file released for review or further investigation.
While law enforcement can legally set up sting operations, entrapment is illegal. Entrapment occurs when officers or informants persuade a suspect to commit a crime that he/she would not normally commit. These tactics are often used to make drug arrests, especially when drug traffickers and large amounts of illegal drugs are suspected. As a general rule, entrapment occurs when the state provides the drugs in question.
Crime Lab Analysis
After drugs are seized by police, a crime lab analysis must prove that the drugs are in fact illegal drugs. Although seized narcotics may appear to be heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine, they must be tested in a crime lab for authenticity. For the prosecutor to make a case against the defendant, the crime lab analyst must then testify in court that the lab tests showed positive results for illegal drugs.
In some drug cases, drugs may turn up missing from the police evidence locker or other secured locations. If evidence is missing, the prosecutor may not be able to prove the case in court. Minneapolis drug attorneys often see missing drugs that warrant dismissal of felony drug charges. Illegal drugs seized by law enforcement commonly get transferred several times before ending up in a police evidence locker.
Medical Marijuana Exception
In states where medical marijuana has been legalized, the medical use of marijuana may be a viable defense for felony drug possession charges. Most states with such exceptions to marijuana laws require a signed statement by a physician that the patient requires the drug for medical treatment. In Minnesota, only patients diagnosed with certain medical conditions are eligible to receive medical marijuana.
Penalties for Felony Drug Crimes
In Minnesota, the conviction of a felony drug crime results in penalties that follow Federal Sentencing Guidelines, based on first through fifth-degree possession. The assigned felony degree also takes into account the following factors:
- The defendant’s criminal history
- The possession or use of a lethal weapon
- Injury to another person/persons during the crime
- The severity of injuries, including death
While judges can depart from the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, mandatory minimum sentences must be imposed. In felony drug crimes, mandatory minimum sentences begin with 5 years and 10 years, depending on the type and weight of illegal drugs.