June 2013 Archives

June 23, 2013

All Meth crimes in Arizona are Charged as felonies; all felonies expose a person to prison.

215628_addiction.jpgLaw enforcement officers recently conducted the biggest methamphetamine bust in Maricopa County's history. Sheriffs investigated for several months before locating 18 bricks of meth (51 pounds) worth almost $1 million. The twenty-six year old suspect who possessed the bricks was arrested for meth possession and other felony charges. As outlined below, he may face serious prison time, depending on his prior felony record and other factors.

Earlier this year, Phoenix AZ participated in "Operation Justice V" sponsored by the U.S. Marshall. In one week 231 persons without outstanding felony warrants were arrested. A large number of those were wanted for "Dangerous Drug" offenses including Meth crimes.

The possession and sale of meth is a growing illegal drug market in Arizona, and some believe it has reached crisis proportions, now affecting teenagers as well. Even though Arizona's teenage meth use has declined in recent years, Arizona remains among the top 10 states for teen meth use.

Meth is highly addictive and affects the neurotransmitter dopamine. It can be smoked, injected or snorted. Users experience a rush as well as increased energy, reduced appetite, and increased respiration. There is a danger of violent behavior, irritability or psychosis. Importantly, long-term use of methamphetamines can cause brain damage that is akin to Alzheimer's.

Due to the addictive nature of Methamphetamines and other Dangerous Drugs, they have been found to lead other serious crimes by users, and dealers that include theft, burglary, assault, sexual assault, aggravated assault, home invasions, even murder.

Meth is classified in the Arizona Revised Statutes as a "dangerous drug." Other "dangerous drugs" include LSD, ecstasy, mushrooms, mescaline and GHB. Willful possession of a dangerous drug can subject anyone who is convicted to serious punishments at the sentencing stage.

Possession of methamphetamine is a Class 4 felony, until someone possesses more than 9 grams, as in the case described above. Then it is charged as a Class 2 felony because it is assumed to be possession for sale. It is important to note that possession of methamphetamine cannot be charged simply as a misdemeanor, even if you have no priors.

Penalties are increased substantially for possession of large quantities of meth. If someone possesses more than 9 grams and it is a first offense, the presumption is that it is for sale. In that case, the minimum imprisonment sentence is five years, the presumptive sentence is 10 years and the maximum sentence is 15 years. However, if someone possesses more than 9 grams and it is not a first offense, the increase in sentencing jumps dramatically. A minimum imprisonment sentence for possession for sale of meth on a second offense is 10 years.

First time drug offenders are eligible for a deferred prosecution program in which they participate in probation during which the offender is subject to drug testing among other things. If they do not meet conditions of their probation, they may face jail time.

The Arizona Revised Statutes permit mitigation or enhancement of a sentence for reasons such as prior criminal convictions, the amount of the drug, and more. If charged with a Class 2 felony and aggravating factors, a defendant can face over 12 years in prison.

The sentencing laws are even harsher for those convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine. In response to the meth crisis, in 2000, Arizona's child abuse law was expanded to include a presumption of endangerment when children or vulnerable adults are found at meth labs.


Additional Resources:

About Meth (Arizona Attorney General)
Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code
Mesa AZ Police Department

June 11, 2013

Possession of 2-4 pounds indicator of commercial dealings. Convictions call for mandatory prison.

131369_pot_of_gold.jpgCultivation or manufacture of marijuana for non-medicinal purposes (or growing outside the strict guidelines provided in connection with medical marijuana cards) remains a felony in Arizona. Those arrested and prosecuted for felony marijuana manufacturing can face serious punishments at sentencing.

There have been several significant arrests in Phoenix and Tucson for cultivation of marijuana recently. In mid-May, Tucson police found a house where 356 marijuana plants in various stages of growth were growing. They also found $18,000 in cash. On June 3, 2013 a canine unit from the Arizona Department of Public Safety found a driver carrying 7 pounds of marijuana. After arresting him, the Arizona Department of Public Safety searched his house in Phoenix and found 100 marijuana plants as well as handguns and growing equipment.

Marijuana cultivation for non-medicinal purposes is not only illegal, but can also be physically dangerous. On June 6, 2013, a marijuana grow house with about 1 dozen marijuana plants caught fire. The firefighters observed lighting, heaters, and Styrofoam insulation. Equipment used to grow marijuana can require an enormous amount of electricity.

As a result of the equipment used to grow large quantities of marijuana, circuits can get overloaded and wires get overheated, resulting in a fire. An entirely sealed room may require a dehumidifier, which also consumes electricity. Failure to control humidity can lead to mold or rotted wood. If propane powered generators are used, there is also the chance of explosion. Depending upon the circumstances, causing a fire and the ensuing property damage or injury to a person can lead to additional civil or criminal penalties beyond those levied for marijuana manufacturing.

Marijuana cultivation for non-medicinal purposes carries different punishments based on the dried weight of the marijuana. In addition to jail or prison time, those convicted of marijuana cultivation must also pay $750 in fines. If convicted of cultivating an amount less than 2 pounds, sentencing may be for a Class Five felony. As a first offense, marijuana manufacturing can be punished with prison for between 6-2.5 years in custody. A judge may offer a first time offender probation instead. If the defendant has one or more prior felony convictions, incarceration times increase even for this small amount.

If convicted of cultivating a quantity of marijuana with a dry weight of 2-4 pounds, the cultivation is a Class 4 felony that carries a mandatory prison sentence of 1 to 3.75 years of incarceration. With one prior felony conviction, the mandatory prison range is 2.25-7.5 years prison. The amount of mandatory prison time increases the more prior felony convictions a defendant has.

Marijuana cultivated in an amount that exceeds 4 pounds dried is a Class 3 felony with a mandatory prison sentence of 2-8.75 years in prison. This amount can increase up to 25 years of incarceration with two prior felony convictions.

Other penalties may apply in a situation involving a marijuana grow room or outside crop. A defendant may be charged not only with manufacture or cultivation, but also possession, sales, or trafficking depending upon the circumstances. As mentioned above, there may be property damage or other problems associated with a grow room.

There are several defenses to a charge of cultivating marijuana that an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to raise. A number of these have a constitutional basis and involve the police following flawed procedures. For example, if the police coerced you into making a confession or failed to read you your "Miranda rights," the evidence obtained this way is not admissible at trial. Similarly, where search warrants were not obtained or obtained improperly, they may violate Fourth Amendment rights.

Under certain circumstances, people are arrested and charged who were not aware of marijuana cultivation. This may happen, for example, on a rental property if marijuana is growing outside in a small part of a garden.

If you are arrested for manufacturing marijuana or for another marijuana-related offense, you should retain an attorney knowledgeable about these types of cases to defend and protect your rights. Contact The Law Office of James Novak at 480-413-1499 for a free consultation.


Additional Resources:

Arizona Drug DUI Laws
Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code
Mesa AZ Police Department

More Blogs

Arizona's Medical Marijuana Law Stands Ground, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, June 4, 2013

Marijuana DUI: The Impact of Montgomery v. Harris, Phoenix DUI Lawyer Blog, March 13, 2013

June 4, 2013

But Medical Marijuana Card Holders Not without Risk

540325_plantator.jpgAlmost three years after passage, Medical marijuana remains controversial in Arizona. Medical Marijuana was legalized in 2010 through voter passage of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA). The purpose of the AMMA is to protect patients with debilitating medical conditions, so that they can obtain necessary relief.

AMMA allows patients to get a registration identification card to show law enforcement officers that they are permitted to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Visitors from another state that recognizes medical marijuana, like California, with equivalent cards are also protected.

Notwithstanding these state protections, some law enforcement officers refuse to recognize the card. Federal law, which trumps state law, does not recognize or permit a medicinal use for marijuana. An appellate case heard earlier this year further legitimized medical marijuana cards, but the facts of the case illustrate that it there are still risks from a legal perspective to be a medical marijuana user in Arizona.

In the case, a California driver (the defendant) was stopped when she entered Arizona. The authorities found and seized marijuana and other contraband. The State filed drug charges against the driver, dismissing them only after she produced proof of permission to use marijuana for medical purposes. The Superior Court ordered that the driver's marijuana be returned.

The State appealed. It argued that the superior court could not order the sheriff to return the marijuana and that Arizona law not only requires "summary forfeiture" of any marijuana seized by law enforcement, but the sheriff could not return the driver's marijuana or risk violating federal law and getting prosecuted.

The appellate court reasoned that law enforcement officers did not seize the marijuana in connection with a drug offense, since the driver was permitted to possess marijuana for medical purposes. Nor could the State win on the grounds that it could keep marijuana that came into its possession. This was because to do that would require either bringing civil forfeiture proceedings, or to be holding drugs possessed in a crime. Since AMMA decriminalized medical marijuana, the latter situation did not exist.

The State also argues that the AMMA did not expressly require them to return marijuana from a qualifying patient. The appellate court disagreed. It noted that no penalty could be placed on a qualified patient under the statute.

The State had also argued that the sheriff could be prosecuted for transferring marijuana under federal law. This, too, the appellate court repudiated. Federal law "immunizes" law enforcement officials who follow a court order.

The State's final argument was that the superior court could not order that the driver's marijuana be returned to her because her possession was a federal crime. The appellate court declined to decide whether federal law preempted AMMA for purposes of adjudicating this case. There was no actual or threatened prosecution of the driver under federal law, and the State was not a party with a personal stake who had standing to argue that federal law prevented the driver from possessing the marijuana. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the ruling of the superior court.

It's clear that this will not be the last time a defendant will have to deal with a situation in which state law enforcement attempt to ignore AMMA. Officers may continue to arrest drivers, requiring them to come to court to fight the charges brought against them.


Additional Resources:

Arizona Drug DUI Laws

Arizona Court of Appeals Division 1

Arizona Drugs Defined Under Criminal Code

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