If the charge is a felony, the first appearance usually occurs the first business day following arrest.
Court determines probable cause and sets release conditions (bond, bail, drug testing, etc.)
Plea is entered.
Prosecution, defense and defendant meet with the judge to determine if the case is ready for trial or resolution. If no trial date is set or resolution reached, a continuance may be granted to allow for further preparations.
Trial date is scheduled or negotiated resolutions are put into action (plea deal, drug court, DOSA, incarceration, fines, probation).
Negotiated resolutions may vary based on the severity of the charge and facts of the case.
Federally and in Washington State, drugs are categorized by the U.S. Controlled Substances Act and the Uniform Controlled Substance Act into five schedules.
Drugs that have a high potential for abuse and have no accepted medical use in the U.S. Examples include opiates and their derivatives, ecstasy/MDMA, LSD, heroin and marijuana.
Drugs that have a high potential for abuse, but are currently accepted for medical treatment in the U.S. Abuse of Schedule II drugs may lead to severe physical or psychological dependence. Examples include methamphetamine, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet), hydrocodone, opium, crack, cocaine, PCP, Fentanyl and codeine.
Drugs with less potential for abuse and are currently accepted for medical use and treatment in the U.S. Abuse of these drugs may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence. Examples include anabolic steroids and Vicodin.
Drugs with low potential for abuse and are currently accepted for medical use in the U.S. Physical or psychological dependence on these drugs is limited relative to the drugs listed in Schedule III. Examples include Xanax and Valium.
Drugs with low potential for abuse and are currently accepted for medical use. Physical or psychological dependence on these drugs is limited related to the drugs listed in Schedule IV. Examples include cough syrup containing codeine.
Certain plea deals may include a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA). DOSA is a residential or prison-based program that may allow for a lesser or suspended prison sentence if certain qualifications are met. The drug conviction stands, however, the benefit to the defendant is that he or she avoids a great portion or even all of the incarceration, based upon successful completion of a treatment-focused probation or parole. A drug lawyer can help you navigate these options.
Drug Court is an opt-in program for defendants who qualify and must be agreed upon by the prosecution. Drug Court generally includes outpatient drug treatment, heavy monitoring and frequent court appearances. If all qualifications are met, the defendant’s charges will be dismissed upon successful completion of the treatment program, which is roughly one year.
On occasion, a defendant may be offered an opportunity to become a confidential informant (CI) and “work off” the charges he or she is facing by agreeing to assist law enforcement. This entails facilitating the arrest and prosecution of drug dealers by arranging and completing purchases of various controlled substances. A CI who successfully “works off” his or her charges can expect to have those charges dismissed or even avoid being prosecuted entirely. Many drug delivery charges involve law enforcement using a CI and having an drug lawyer experienced in cross examining a confidential informant is critical.
If the charge happens to be a felony, the defendant will likely be held in jail until the time of their First Appearance, which typically occurs the first business day following the arrest. In this phase of the case, the allegations are read to the Court. The Court then makes a determination whether or not probable cause exists for the charge presented. The Court will then set release conditions, which may include posting a bond or bail and submitting to random drug testing. The Court will then schedule an arraignment hearing where the defendant will be asked to enter a plea, which will almost always be Not Guilty to allow for additional investigation and preparation of the case. Be sure to consult with a drug lawyer to determine your best path forward. At this time, judge will then set a pre-trial hearing, similar to a status conference, and a trial date.
On the day of the pre-trial hearing, the prosecution, defense counsel and the defendant meet with the judge to determine if the case is ready for trial or resolution, or it may be continued to a later date.
Very few cases actually go to trial, however, drug charges tend to go to trial more frequently than most. The case will usually be tried before a jury of 12 for felony charges in superior court or a jury of six for misdemeanor charges.
On occasion the case may be tried in front of a judge rather than a jury. At a trial the State has the burden to prove the elements of the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. This also means that the defendant has no burden to prove anything, cannot be compelled to testify. It also means that the defendant’s silence cannot be used against him or her.
Negotiated resolutions vary based on the severity of the charge and the facts of each case but may include a plea deal, drug court, incarceration in jail or prison, fines, and community custody or probation. Don’t go through this process without an experienced drug lawyer by your side.