For defendants in South Carolina, the sentencing provisions of drug possession laws may come as an unpleasant surprise. The penalties for drug possession can be severe - even for a first offense. Defendants need an experienced Columbia criminal defense attorney to protect their legal rights at all stages of criminal proceedings.
South Carolina Sentencing for Drug Possession
The South Carolina statutes give specific guidance for the sentencing of drug possession offenses. These guidelines are based upon the type of drug which is possessed:
- A first offense for possession of marijuana is subject to jail time of up to thirty days, a fine of up to $200, or both. [See South Carolina Code of Laws § 44-53-370(d)(4).]
- A first offense for possession of cocaine is subject to a prison sentence of up to three years and a fine of up to $5000, or both. [See S.C.C.L. §44-53-370(d)(3).]
- A first offense for possession of cocaine base (“crack cocaine”) or methamphetamine is subject to a sentence of up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $5000, or both. [See S.C.C.L. §44-53-375(a).]
- A first offense for possession of a Schedule I or Schedule II narcotic, or heroin, is subject to a prison sentence of up to two years, a fine of up to $5000, or both. [See S.C.C.L. §44-53-370(d)(1).]
- A first offense for possession of a Schedule I through V non-narcotic is subject to a jail sentence of up to six months, a fine of up to $1000, or both. [See S.C.C.L. §44-53-370(d)(2).]
Collateral Consequences of a Drug Conviction
Many criminal defendants are painfully unaware of the collateral consequences of a conviction for drug possession - even if it is a first offense. The criminal process is lengthy, and often results in a significant amount of missed work. Job prospects are often severely limited after a drug conviction - even if it is a misdemeanor. Nor are the consequences of a criminal records limited only to job opportunities. Housing, professional licensure, education, welfare benefits, military records, immigration status, the right to serve in public office, and social opportunities can all be limited by the nature of a drug conviction. Civil rights are also revoked automatically after a felony conviction. These include: the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, and the right to possess a firearm.
A court can order a criminal defendant to undergo substance abuse screening or treatment as it deems necessary. This, too, can incur significant investments of time and money, but it is a critical step toward rebuilding one’s life after a drug conviction. Driving privileges can also be revoked if the drug offense involved driving under the influence. This, too, requires a significant investment of time and money in order to restore a defendant's driving privileges.
Because a drug conviction can carry such devastating and long-lasting consequences, it is important to seek experienced legal counsel from the beginning of your case. Not only do defendants have a constitutional right to be represented by counsel, but the collateral consequences of a drug conviction can be mitigated by effective legal representation.