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Does state or federal law apply in drug possession cases?

Drug crimes can be somewhat complex. What few people may fail to realize is that certain drug crimes are charged under state law, while others are charged in accordance with federal law. In South Carolina and elsewhere, drug possession is one offense that could actually fall in either category.

Both state and federal law prohibit the possession of illegal substances. However, drug type and amount in possession matter when it comes to how criminal charges will be filed. A simple possession case, or case in which a person is found carrying a small quantity of a drug, will often be handled at a state level. Anyone found carrying a large quantity, though, may be charged with intent to distribute, which could be dealt with on a federal level when more than one jurisdiction is involved.

In drug possession cases, the burden of proof lies with prosecuting attorneys. They must be able to establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the accused was knowingly carrying a controlled substance. In a case where the accused is charged with intent to distribute, it is generally required that other drug items must have also been found in his or her possession -- such as scales, bags and cash.

The consequences for drug possession can be quite severe, particularly for those charged under federal law. Common penalties include jail or imprisonment and fines. In simple possession cases at the state level, though, some individuals may be able to seek alternative sentencing in a South Carolina drug court -- which is meant to help with rehabilitation rather than focusing on punishment. Whether charged on a state or federal level, one accused of drug possession does have the right to a criminal defense. With assistance, the best possible outcome for one's circumstance may be achieved.

Source: FindLaw, "Drug Possession Overview", Accessed on March 2, 2016

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