Utah has very strict drug laws with serious consequences. Alongside strict penalties and enforcement of drug possession laws, police and prosecutors in Utah crack down on drug trafficking and drug sale crimes. The crime of selling drugs – or possessing them with the intent to sell – is commonly called by various names. Whether it’s called drug sale, drug trafficking, possession with intent to deliver, possession with intent to sell, or possession with intent to distribute, the crime is punished under Utah Code § 58-37-8.
If you or your child was charged with drug crimes, talk to an attorney. Salt Lake City drug trafficking defense attorney Darwin Overson of Overson Law may be able to take your case. With years of experience handling criminal defense cases and drug possession crimes, Darwin Overson may be able to help you get charges dropped, reduced, or dismissed in Utah. For a free consultation on your drug charges, call today at (801) 758-2287.
PWID Charges in Utah
In Utah, the crime of possessing drugs with intent to sell them is typically called “possession with intent to distribute,” or a similar name, and may be abbreviated to “PWID.” PWID is a more serious crime than “simple” drug possession – or drug possession for personal use. In an attempt to root-out drug dealers and stop the drug trade, Utah has increased the criminal penalties for selling drugs over simple possession. Note, though, that this law punishes the intent to sell as well as the actual sale. However, the government may have difficulty proving intent.
First, to understand the charges against you, it is important to break down Utah’s PWID statute. Utah’s definition of “deliver” includes not only when drugs actually change hands, but also includes:
- “Constructive” delivery, which would include leaving an item to be picked up by its new owner; and
- Attempted delivery, which would include a drug sale that is interrupted or halted by police.
In addition, there are multiple types of conduct that the statute specifically criminalizes. The following are all illegal with respect to any drug in Utah under § 58-37-8(a):
- Producing drugs;
- Manufacturing drugs;
- Dispensing drugs;
- Agreeing, consenting, offering, or arranging to do any of the above;
- Possessing a drug with the intent to distribute it; or
- Continuing a criminal enterprise for drug trafficking.
Not only do these crimes apply to actual drugs, but also to counterfeit or imitation drugs. That means that even something like selling white powder, green herbs, or sugar pills while claiming they are drugs would all be crimes, even if the items contain no actual drugs.
Challenging Possession with Intent to Deliver Charges in Utah
One important aspect of the possession part of this crime is that it criminalizes the intent behind the possession. This is a difficult element for police and prosecutors to prove in many cases. First, if you simply have drugs, there may be no immediate evidence of what you intend to do with them. While the possession itself may be provable in court, the intent to deliver may not be. This can mean reducing PWID charges down to simple possession charges, which carry lower criminal penalties (especially for marijuana).
Utah’s statute does not have any amount thresholds that automatically turn a possession crime into possession with intent to deliver. There is a misconception that you are “safe” from these charges with a small amount of drugs, and that if you possess a large amount of drugs, you are automatically considered a dealer. While having a large quantity of drugs may make you look like a drug dealer, there is nothing in the statute that automatically turns possession into possession with intent without actual evidence of intent to deliver. Additionally, you can deliver even very small quantities of drugs, so you are not “safe” with small amounts.
Proving your intent may be difficult, since police, prosecutors, juries, and judges cannot get inside your head. Without a confession that you intended to sell the drugs, police and prosecutors need to rely upon evidence of your behavior to infer your intent. This may come from a number of actions surrounding your drug possession, including:
- Loitering in a high drug trafficking areas;
- Subdividing drugs into sellable quantities as opposed to one lump quantity;
- Carrying baggies or containers to divide drugs for sale;
- Carrying scales or cutting tools to weigh or separate drugs;
- Carrying large quantities of cash;
- Carrying multiple cell phones or pagers;
- Carrying large quantities of cash;
- Carrying a gun; or
- Other evidence that the drugs are for sale or transport, rather than personal use.
Police and prosecutors will need to prove your intent as a separate element of the crime. However, it is important to note that undercover police or informants may be able to testify that you actually delivered or actually sold drugs, avoiding this intent requirement.
Additionally, proving possession itself may be difficult in some situations. Legally, “possession” can refer to “actual possession” or “constructive possession.” Actual possession is when you literally have something in your hands or on your person, and can easily be proven if police catch you with drugs in your pockets, a backpack, or somewhere else on your body. If police catch you with drugs in your car, in your home, or in a shared location, it may be more difficult for them to prove the drugs were yours. To prove this, police must show that you knew the drugs were there and had the ability to exercise control over them. While this may mean you can challenge drug possession charges by claiming you did not know they were there or did not control them, it may also mean you can be charged with possession over drugs that a roommate or housemate stores in a common area or shared vehicle.
Darwin Overson understands the legal distinctions between drug “trafficking” and simple possession, and how to challenge both accusations. Hiring an attorney to challenge these elements may undermine the government’s case and reduce PWID charges to simple possession charges.
Sentencing Guidelines for a Drug Trafficking Conviction in Utah
Under Utah Code § 58-37-8(b), you can face years in jail if you are convicted for a drug trafficking crime. First, you must determine the classification of drug you are accused of possessing. Drugs are typically sorted into “Schedules” based on their danger of addiction, opportunity for abuse, and lack of medical benefit. For this reason, purely illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine are Schedule I and II drugs (respectively), whereas many prescription drugs may be Schedule III drugs.
If the drug you possessed was a Schedule I or II drug, the crime is a second-degree felony. This is punished by 1 to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. A second or subsequent conviction is upgraded to a first-degree felony, punished by at least 5 years, up to life imprisonment, and fines of up to $10,000.
If the drug you possessed was a Schedule II or IV substance, the crime is a third-degree felony. This is punished with up to 5 years in prison and fines up to $5,000. For a second or subsequent offense, the crime is a second-degree felony, as listed above.
If the drug was a Schedule V substance (a very low level of drug), the crime is a class A misdemeanor. This is punished with up to one year in jail and fines up to $2,500. A second or further offense is upgraded to a third-degree felony, as described above.
Our Salt Lake City Drug Possession with Intent to Distribute Defense Lawyers Can Help
If you were arrested for drug trafficking or any crime where possession with intent to deliver is an element, talk to a Salt Lake City criminal defense attorney today. Darwin Overson of Overson Law may be able to help you with your charges and fight to get charges dropped, dismissed, or reduced. For your free consultation, call (801) 758-2287 today.