What Does Possession of a Controlled Substance Mean in Pennsylvania?

Being charged with possession of a controlled substance in Pennsylvania is a serious charge that can lead to severe consequences, such as fines or potentially long-term imprisonment, depending on the circumstances.

If you find yourself as a defendant facing these charges, it’s essential to understand the potential consequences and legal defenses. 

What Is a Controlled Substance?

Under Pennsylvania law, a controlled substance is defined as “a drug, substance, or immediate precursor included in Schedules I through V.” The term “Schedules” refers to different types of substances based on severity/likeliness of abuse. 

Examples include marijuana, heroin, Fentanyl, certain prescription medications – like opiates and benzodiazepines, cocaine, and other illicit substances. 

Elements of a Drug Possession Charge in Pennsylvania 

Possession of a controlled substance in Pennsylvania, also known as simple possession, refers to knowingly and intentionally possessing a controlled or banned substance without legal authority. 

It’s generally classified as a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one year in prison and/or fines not exceeding $5,000 for first-time offenders. However, the law takes it much more seriously when it comes to certain substances like gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), also known as the date rape drug.

If you’re charged with possession of GHB, then your charges escalate to a felony, and you face up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

You Could Be Charged With PWID

If you’re stopped and arrested for simple possession, it’s possible that law enforcement officers could charge you with possession with intent to distribute (PWID) based on the quantity of drugs found in your possession.

If you’re carrying an amount exceeding what is considered personal use – this is determined on a case-by-case basis – you could still face charges for PWID even without evidence of actual distribution. 

Law enforcement will also look at other items in your possession or in the vicinity to make this determination, like whether there is paraphernalia for personal use or items that indicate you were selling the drug, like small baggies and a scale. 

Possession Doesn’t Always Mean It’s on Your Person 

When you think of possession, you probably imagine something physically being on your person – in your pocket or in your hand, for example. However, that’s not the only way you can be determined to ‘possess’ something under Pennsylvania law. 

There is a concept known as constructive possession, where even if drugs or illegal items aren’t found directly on your person, they could still be considered under your possession by law. 

For example, if drugs are located somewhere over which you have dominion and control, such as your house or car, you could be said to have constructive possession over them, depending on the circumstances. 

Legal Defenses to Possession of a Controlled Substance 

When facing charges of possession of a controlled substance, it may seem difficult to defend – but there are multiple legal defenses your attorney can explore to fight the charges brought against you:

Absence of Possession

The prosecution must prove that you had actual or constructive possession of the drugs. By providing evidence that contradicts this claim, your defense team can effectively argue there was no actual or constructive possession. 

Arguing that you don’t have constructive possession usually includes showing that someone else has control over the space where the drugs were found and you didn’t control them or know they were there. 

Lack of Knowledge or Intent

At times, you might genuinely have no knowledge that the drugs were in your possession at all. Simply being unaware can serve as a defense if it can be proven that you did not knowingly or intentionally come into possession of those illegal substances.

Valid Prescription 

If you have possession of a controlled substance but it was legally prescribed by an authorized medical professional, this can be used as a defense. 

Illegal Search and Seizure 

Illegal search and seizure protections provided under the Fourth Amendment can also play crucial roles in your defense. If law enforcement officers searched you without appropriate cause and, as a result, found a controlled substance, your attorney can file a motion to suppress to attempt to have this evidence excluded. 

Get Legal Help From a Qualified Criminal Defense Lawyer 

Which defense is best for your case will be determined by your attorney after reviewing the specifics of your case. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a possession of a controlled substance defense attorney

Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm in West Chester, PA

If you are facing criminal charges and need legal help, contact the West Chester, PA criminal defense lawyers at DiCindio Law, LLC to schedule a free initial consultation.

DiCindio Law, LLC
29 S Walnut St
West Chester, PA 19382
(610) 430-3535

***This blog article is made available by the law firm publisher for educational purposes and to provide general information, not to provide specific legal advice. By reading, you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the publisher. The above listed information does not include the entire crimes code, annotations, amendments or any recent changes that may be relevant. The information provided is for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These materials are not intended, and should not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. Please contact DiCindio Law, LLC for a consultation and to discuss what law is relevant to your case. ***