If you were charged with a drug-related offense, you are likely to be overwhelmed and frightened. Often, people feel pressured to act quickly, which might be a detriment to their legal standing.
Therefore, it is important that you understand DC drug trials and how each step of the legal process works before deciding how to proceed. However, instead of figuring this process out alone, a well-versed lawyer could walk you through each step.
The majority of drug cases in DC are handled in the DC Superior Court, the state level court created in the 1970s to handle most of the cases in the District. However, the U.S. is a federal court located within DC, and often handles more serious drug offenses. These might include conspiracy cases or charges involving large quantities of narcotics.
When a person is charged with possession of a controlled substance in the District of Columbia, their case may take four to six months to litigate. If they are charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance—or distribution of a controlled substance—however, the case may take as long as a year or more.
This is because the typical judge’s docket is often extremely crowded at this level. Therefore, if someone decides they want to have a trial, it often takes a long time to be heard by a jury.
The type of charge a person receives plays a role in whether their drug case has a bench trial or a jury trial. When someone is charged with possession of a controlled substance, for example, they are only entitled to a bench trial—which is a trial in front of a judge. This is because, in DC, any penalty that only carries a maximum of 180 days in jail does not entitle someone to a jury trial.
However, if the penalties for a person’s charge carry the potential for more extensive jail time, a jury trial is likely. So, if someone is charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance, for example, they are most likely entitled to a jury trial. This is often true for distribution charges, as well.
The DC Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines are the rules used to determine the sentences for felony cases in DC. While these are not mandatory rules, if a judge departs from them, they need to give a valid reason for doing so. These rules are accompanied by a grid that lists the criminal history a person might have, as well as the current offense. The intersection between past charges and the current offense yield one of three types of colored boxes—each box contains a proposed sentencing range.
A white box, for instance, means prison-only, and the judge must have a good reason for not being compliment with this sentence. If the box is dark gray, however, the judge may consider a split sentence—this is a combination of jail time, as well as supervision outside of jail. Furthermore, a light gray box means the charge is probation-eligible.
For drug cases, there is a separate grid within these guidelines. For example, for a first offense for the distribution or for possession with intent to distribute controlled substances in DC, probation is an option—but this is usually only true if the person has no prior criminal history. However, as a criminal history becomes more substantial, or if the crime involves a firearm, the penalties reflect these elevations become more serious.
In the District of Columbia, the legal proceedings for a narcotics-related offense are varied and complex. Because of this, speaking to a lawyer about how DC drug trials work may prove beneficial.
Without legal assistance, it might be difficult to fully understand your legal rights and how to best proceed. To discuss your circumstances, call a knowledgeable attorney today.
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