Drug Charges in New York

Watch the following educational legal video by New York Criminal Defense Attorney Robert Aiello as he explains drug charges in New York State.

We’re currently facing a drug epidemic, and law enforcement is dedicating more and more resources to the fight at both the state and federal levels. At the state level, they go out and arrest low-level sellers – and they also arrest the people who are buying. Sometimes, the two go hand in hand because, if someone’s got a drug problem, chances are they’re supporting their own drug habit by selling. Whether you’re a user of cocaine or pills, or even marijuana – which has been decriminalized but can still get you charged with a crime – if you’re using drugs, chances are you’re probably selling too, and using the profit you’re making to support your habit. For example, you may know a guy who’s dealing the stuff, and you make a deal with him. He gives you a certain amount to sell, and you keep something for yourself.

Crimes that involve the selling of drugs are considered a lot more serious than those of simply using those same drugs. That’s why people who are drug addicts are often arrested for selling drugs. That’s how they support their habits. As a result, they face much more serious charges than they would for the mere possession of drugs. For example, if you sell a small quantity of cocaine, you’ll be charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance in the third degree – a Class B felony that carries a maximum penalty of 8-1/3 to 25 years. That is a very long time.

On the flip side, if you are caught with a small quantity of cocaine in your possession, that’s considered an A misdemeanor. That’s a misdemeanor offense, as opposed to a felony, and the most jail time you’d face for such an A misdemeanor is a year because of the big disparity between selling and possessing. Unfortunately, very often, people who are using are also selling and that’s where the law can be very unfair. One thing attorneys must do when representing someone who has been arrested for selling and/or possessing drugs is establish whether that person has a drug problem and is selling to support his own habit or if he’s someone in the business of selling drugs strictly to make money. It’s an important distinction that will guide the attorney’s handling of the case.

Many of the cases I see now – and this scenario is just rampant across Long Island and in the city – involve young people who are getting involved with pills and quaaludes. It may start out when a person has some pain. Maybe they underwent a surgery followed by the doctor’s prescribing pain killers. The next thing you know, months and months have passed and it’s time for the patient to go off the medication, but he doesn’t want to stop taking them because it feels good not to be in pain. That’s how people become addicted. Then the doctor stops writing prescriptions because the number of prescriptions he writes is monitored and he can get in trouble – or even be arrested – if he’s found to be writing prescriptions for patients who don’t have a legitimate need for the prescription. A lot more attention is now being focused on this area. At that point, the patient seeks out a substitute source of pain killers because he can no longer get them from the doctor.

At that point, people may find themselves on the street looking for a substitute drug, and they find a new drug of choice – whether it’s Roxy or one of the other drugs currently being offered – and, all of a sudden, they’re involved in this cycle. They soon become addicted to the new drug because it’s very easy to become addicted. Addiction is a terrible disease; however, unfortunately, we don’t always treat drug addiction as a disease. Rather, the system criminalizes it. We arrest people and tell them, “You violated the law, and we want to put you in jail.”

When I first meet with clients who’ve been arrested, I try to discern whether or not they have a drug problem. If so, I will usually send them to an expert for evaluation. I refer them to someone I trust who can say to me, “Look, Rob, I’ve run tests on your client. I’ve done some random testing and, in my professional opinion, your client has a problem.” I don’t share that report with anyone. It’s just for me – and for my client to know, straight up, that he or she has a problem.

Once we’ve identified the problem, I usually try to get my client to focus on a long term solution. I may say, “You’ve been arrested for using drugs. You have a drug problem. You’re a young person. Do you want to live this way for the next 20 or 30 years, or do you want to try to help yourself fight this disease and get better, so that you can become a productive member of society? Get a good job? Have a family? Get married? Do the things in life that most of us want to do?” I try to encourage them to seek treatment if they have a problem.

Even in cases where the person has been selling drugs, the courts are often very understanding if they come forward. It takes considerable time and energy, but if the attorney can present a case to the prosecutor, emphasizing that his client is a drug addict and not merely a seller looking to profit and make money, you can oftentimes convince them that your client needs a drug treatment program to help with his addiction. I’ve had tremendous results with clients who’ve been able to get into programs. I use an expert to help me identify whether my client needs to attend an outpatient program once or twice a week, an intensive outpatient program three to five times a week, or an inpatient program.

If a client has been abusing for years, going to a treatment program once or twice a week is not going to solve his problem. This individual is going to need long term care, and I want to work with him and try to get him to a better place by attempting to get him into a program that can address his drug problem along with his underlying mental health issues. This is essential because clients with substance abuse problems usually suffer from underlying mental health issues – psychological or psychiatric problems that may date far back in their lives and been brought on by a myriad of issues. The point is, that client needs a comprehensive program that will address those things because you can’t just address one and ignore the other. That’s why I have an expert in place to help me navigate this and identify the appropriate program to address my client’s specific issues.

Every case is different. Whether the charge is sale or possession of drugs, every case is different and each one requires an individual approach. A lot of what I’m trying to accomplish in talking with the prosecutor is to convey an understanding of my client and his background – the circumstances of his life that brought him to this place. How do I differentiate my client from every other guy who’s going through the system? That’s what makes it so important, when I’m working with a new client, to get as much background information as I can. I present it to the District Attorney’s office in an effort to work out a favorable resolution to his case.

Robert J. Aiello is a principal and founding member of the law firm and a trial attorney.  His practice is devoted primarily to criminal defense in State and Federal Courts. Mr. Aiello has been involved in many high-profile cases throughout his career. Contact us at our Maspeth, Queens office today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with experienced New York criminal defense attorney Robert Aiello.

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