Tennessee Drug Penalty FAQ
Drug penalties in Tennessee are harsh and can produce limitations as you seek housing and employment. This is especially true if your charges involve distribution to a minor.
The frightening and overwhelming world of the criminal justice system will show no mercy as you navigate it. That is why hiring a criminal defense attorney is so crucial to avoiding maximum penalties and making decisions based on law and available facts, rather than frantic conclusions. The following are common questions we receive about drug penalties.
What constitutes a drug offense?
Tennessee law defines a drug offense as the knowing and intentional manufacture, delivery (distribution), sale or possession of a controlled substance. The seriousness of the offense is determined by many factors, including the drug schedules authorized by the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Laws are not limited to illegal drugs like marijuana or cocaine. Controlled substances include those with legitimate medical purposes like oxycodone and morphine. If you use these drugs under a doctor’s care, you will not be charged with a drug offense. However, if you fill your prescriptions or steal another person’s prescription and distribute it, you are committing a drug offense.
What determines the penalty?
Drug penalties range from a Class A Misdemeanor for lower quantities and less addictive substances to a Class A Felony for substances with a high potential for abuse and dependency. Factors determining the extent of charges include:
- Class of drug. The Federal Controlled Substances Act rates drugs on a schedule from one to five. Tennessee law has seven schedules. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, no currently acceptable medical use, and no safety controls. These substances are illegal and attract the highest penalties. They include heroin and cocaine. Schedule V or higher drugs have has a low potential for abuse and acceptable medical uses, so distributing them contains lower penalties.
- Amount distributed and/or in possession. Offenses involving marijuana and other THC products depend heavily on amount when assessing penalties. The federal drug schedule classifies it as a Schedule I drug but Tennessee created an additional category to allow for specific handling: Schedule VI. Less than one-half ounce in possession classifies the offense as a Class A Misdemeanor. However, once you possess more than one-half ounce, your offense falls into felony territory.
- Location of offense. Enhancement offenses add to the penalty and one of these includes location. Being within 1,000 feet of a school, library, recreation center or park when your alleged charges occurred upgrades your penalty one classification higher. For example, a possession charge that would fall under a Class D felony becomes a Class C felony.
- Involvement of minors. Distributing to minors, or intending to do so, is also an enhancement offense. Charges upgrade one classification higher.
- Use of weapons. If you used or possessed a deadly weapon at the time of distribution or possession, that also upgrades your charges.
These are the factors unique to drug charges. Your previous record and willingness to complete drug offender school, rehabilitation, or community service are also considered in simple possession cases. While we cannot guarantee your case contains mitigation circumstances, we will review your file thoroughly for that possibility.
If I am convicted, how long will I spend in jail?
Drug offenses in Tennessee are classified as at least a Class A misdemeanor. For example, if you are convicted of distributing less than a half-ounce (14.175 grams) of marijuana, your sentence would be less than one year in prison or a fine not more than $2,500 in most cases.
Most drug offenses are felonies. If your charges reach felony levels, you can expect the following penalties:
- Class A Felony. Applies to the distribution, sale, and manufacture of high quantities of Schedule I drugs. Penalty ranges from 15 to 60 years in prison and additional fines.
- Class B Felony. Applies to Schedule I and II drugs, including ones that have a legitimate medical purpose. If your charges involve less than .5 grams of Schedule I drugs, you will face a Class B Felony rather than a Class A. Penalty ranges from 8 to 30 years in prison and additional fines.
- Class C Felony. Applies to multiple drug schedules including any substances with a legitimate medical purpose. The Class C Felony charges arise from smaller amounts in possession. Prison sentences range from 3 to 15 years in prison and additional fines.
- Class D Felony. Applies to drugs classified as Schedule III and lower and higher possession quantities of marijuana and other THC products. Penalties include 2 to 12 years in prison and additional fines.
- Class E Felony. Lower scheduled drugs and more than one-half ounce of marijuana fall under a Class E Felony. The expected penalty if convicted is 1 to 6 years in prison and additional fines.
What I should I do if I am facing charges?
Drug penalties can be immense, so it is important that you pay attention to court schedules and follow procedure. Failing to do so can result in excessive charges and the penalties associated with them.
Even if you have not hired a lawyer yet, attend all your court dates. You can request time to hire an attorney and being unprepared is better than failing to show. If you choose to skip the court date, the court will issue a bench warrant, or a capias if it is criminal court, and complicate the matter further.
Contact an Experienced Memphis Drug Attorney
Hire an attorney as soon as possible. Tennessee law is extremely punitive against drug offenses—especially if you were near a school, library or any other place where there are minors. If you distributed to a minor, it will not matter if you did not know they were underage. You can face serious penalties and should not proceed without legal assistance.
The Hamilton Law Firm offers criminal defense representation for DUI, drug offenses, and other criminal charges—even murder. Time is of the essence if you face charges in Memphis, TN. Contact us today!