Evidence in DC Drug Cases

If you were charged with a drug-related offense—or if you suspect you are under investigation—you are likely to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed. However, it is important to understand how the legal process works, including how evidence in DC drug cases works.

Unfortunately, many people charged with an offense feel pressured to act quickly, which might prove to be detrimental to their case. By working with a well-versed lawyer, you could have help in understanding your legal rights and options.

What Needs to be Proven in a DC Drug Case

The burden of proof for the prosecution depends on the specific charges of a case. For example, if someone is charged with possession of a controlled substance, the government needs to prove one of the two types: actual or constructive.

Actual possession is when someone has drugs on their person—for example, in their pocket. In this case, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual physically had the drugs on their person. On the other hand, when the government does not allege that the drugs were found on the defendant’s body, but that they were found in a car or nearby, this is known as constructive possession. Essentially, constructive possession is when an individual has knowledge of an illegal substance, as well as the ability and power to control them.

As an example, two people are in a car that is pulled over, and an officer finds drugs underneath the driver’s seat. In this case, the government would need to prove that either party knew about the illegal substance, as well as had the power to control them. Proving this might be based on various circumstances, such as if one of them was the owner of the vehicle.

Proof of Distribution

When someone is charged with distribution of a controlled substance, the government must first prove that the drug was transferred from one individual to another. The sale is not a requirement of distribution, however, but the government must establish the transfer of the controlled substance from one person to another.

Another element of a possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance charge that must be proven is the intention, which might be proven in a variety of ways. The government usually attempts to prove the element of intent by highlighting the indicia of distribution or indications of intent to sell by the presence of drug paraphernalia. This might include:

  • A large amount of money
  • Packaging materials
  • Chemicals used to dilute drugs to increase the quantity that can be distributed
  • The presence of a scale
  • The presence of drug residue on a scale

In all of these charges, one element that needs to be proven is that the substance is a controlled substance. There is a great deal of litigation on how the drug enforcement agencies tested the drugs for cases in the District Columbia to make the determination. There are cases, particularly with cases involving marijuana, for example, where the methodology to determine that element was successfully challenged.

What Evidence is Presented in a DC Drug Case?

The evidence presented in a DC drug offense case depends on the type of charge. In a possession case, for example, the evidence presented is usually the controlled substance, as well as what the government claims was found. Additionally, the location of where a substance was found is presented.

When the government makes a charge of actual possession, it must present evidence that the drugs were found either on the defendant’s person, or in their pocket or bag. With a constructive possession case, on the other hand, evidence must be presented that the drugs were found in a place where the individual theoretically had knowledge of them, as well as the power to control them.

Contested Elements During a Trial

The elements of a drug case that are often highly contested in DC often relate to constructive possession. If drugs are not found to be in the actual possession of somebody—or if there are issues related to the positioning of the drugs in a house—the issue becomes about who had control of the room, who stayed in the room, where the drugs were found, and whether anyone’s fingerprints or DNA were on the packaging of the substance.

In a possession with intent to distribute case, the highly contested issues are related to the indicia of intention. In these cases, the defense might provide evidence that any money present was not the result of a drug sale, but was earned legitimately. Here, a pay stub from the defendant’s job may be introduced as evidence.

Other pieces of evidence that are frequently challenged during a drug case include the presence of packaging materials, as well as the amount of drugs. The government may claim, for example, that the quantity of drugs is too much for personal use. The defense may respond through testimony by a witness—or through cross-examination of the government drug expert—that people sometimes buy larger quantities because they get a better price. If an individual buys drugs for personal use and they can afford it, they may spend more money at one time to get a larger amount of drugs because buying lesser amounts costs more per ounce or gram.

How a Legal Professional Might Help

If you were charged with a drug-related offense in DC, contacting a seasoned lawyer might prove to be essential. By discussing how evidence works during a drug case, a practiced attorney could you to understand the charges you face, as well as how you might be able to build a defense. To begin working on your case today, call a legal professional.