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Defining possession with the intent to distribute in drug charges

Hearing about the drug charges of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to distribute is not altogether uncommon. The crime title may sound self-explanatory but it actually consists of three parts: possession, intent to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute. All three elements must be met in order for the crime to have been committed.

Possession of drug paraphernalia includes more than just holding the illegal drugs in one's hand. It can be met by contraband being found in an individual's pockets or bag, but it does not necessarily have to be on the person. Rather, having the drugs within your control can qualify as well. Generally, however, the individual must be aware that the drugs are present. Some jurisdictions take it a step further by concluding knowledge was present if the person "should have known" the drugs were in their possession.

In order to prove the person's intent to distribute, the government must show what the individual was planning to do with the controlled substances. This is generally shown by surrounding circumstances, such as possessing a higher amount of drugs than is meant for personal use. Other clues could include packaging materials, large amounts of money, or communications with customers.

Even if the first two elements are met, the full crime has not been committed unless the two parts occurred at the same time. For example, an individual who has the intention to sell a large amount of drugs but does not currently have any in possession cannot be considered to have committed the crime.

Drug charges can result in serious consequences. For those charged with such crimes, a solid defense can help make sure the prosecution proves every element required so an innocent victim is not punished for a crime that was never actually committed.

Source: FindLaw, "Possession with the Intent to Distribute," accessed Sept. 5, 2014

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