Substance abuse is still a major legal and societal problem in the United States. With the emergence of drugs like crack cocaine and Oxycontin over the last several decades, everyone now should know that drug abuse can be devastating. Lawmakers have expanded the drug possession and trafficking laws, which are now quite complicated. Drug crimes include trafficking, manufacturing, prescription forgery, conspiracy, and illegal pot cultivation as well as sales and possession charges. If you are accused of any misdemeanor or felony drug charge, a conviction will very negatively impact your life, your job, your family, and your future.
In the state of Washington, “VUSCA” stands for the Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. The extensive provisions of VUSCA spell out all of the potential criminal charges and penalties for the illegal use, possession, sale, and distribution of controlled substances in Washington, including both illegal substances and stolen or diverted pharmaceutical drugs.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL PENALTIES FOR VUSCA VIOLATIONS?
A VUSCA charge in Washington, put simply, is a drug charge in this state, and anyone who faces such a charge should seek promptly the legal advice and services of an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney. Depending on the type of drug, the amount, and the suspect’s criminal history, a VUSCA charge could be filed and prosecuted as a misdemeanor, as a gross misdemeanor, or as a class A, B, or C felony.
A prison sentence is probable if you are convicted of the illegal sale of drugs in Washington. In this state, a conviction for:
- a misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000
- a gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000
- a class C felony is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
- a class B felony is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000
- a class A felony is punishable by up to life in prison and a fine of up to $50,000
Physicians and other healthcare professionals who provide bogus prescriptions or divert drugs from a hospital or from a clinic dispensary – whether the motive is personal use or selling the drugs for profit – will face criminal charges under VUSCA as well as probable termination from the job. A VUSCA conviction for a healthcare professional almost always means the revocation of that individual’s professional license.
In addition to these penalties, Washington law allows for the forfeiture of property involved in drug crimes. This means that law enforcement authorities may seize and sell your private property when they can prove the property was used in connection with a Washington drug crime or a drug-related crime. Property that can be seized includes any vehicles used or intended for use to deliver controlled substances; money used or intended for buying a controlled substance; and even real estate linked to the manufacture, cultivation, or delivery of controlled substances.
WHAT FACTORS DO PROSECUTORS AND JUDGES CONSIDER?
A number of factors will be under consideration by a Washington prosecutor when that prosecutor is determining the precise VUSCA charge or charges to file against a defendant. If the defendant is convicted of the charge or charges, many of those same factors will be considered by the judge when that judge determines the precise sentence to impose. These factors include but are not necessarily limited to:
- the types and amounts of drugs involved
- the defendant’s intention – sale or personal use – for possessing the drug
- the defendant’s previous criminal history
- whether a weapon was used or in the possession of the defendant
- whether the defendant is an adult or a juvenile
- if the defendant is an adult, whether a juvenile was involved with the alleged crime
While the recreational use of pot has been legal in this state since 2012, recreational pot users are not allowed to grow their own marijuana under Washington law. Only licensed growers, called “producers,” may legally cultivate marijuana under Washington’s recreational use law. However, patients who use medical marijuana, upon the written recommendation of a doctor, may grow up to fifteen plants exclusively for their own personal medicinal use. Only licensed retailers may sell marijuana legally in this state.
Many judges in Washington drug cases ask for a chemical dependency evaluation before handing down a sentence, and some defendants may qualify for a sentencing alternative. Washington has a First Time Offender Waiver, a Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative (DOSA) program, and a Diversion program.
These focus on drug counseling and treatment rather than incarceration and punishment. Acceptance for alternative sentencing is never automatic or guaranteed, but an experienced Seattle criminal defense attorney should be able to explain the potential penalties in any particular case and be familiar with the possible sentencing options.
HOW CAN YOU BE DEFENDED AGAINST A VUSCA CHARGE?
Of course, a VUSCA charge is not the equivalent of a conviction. No matter what the precise charge is against a defendant, the state still has the burden of proving that defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in order to obtain a conviction.
Depending on the details of the case and the VUSCA charge, an experienced Seattle defense lawyer might offer one or more of the defenses listed here on a defendant’s behalf:
- The police had no probable cause for a search or seizure.
- The search warrant was obtained fraudulently and/or used illegally.
- The defendant was entrapped into a crime he or she otherwise would not commit.
- Evidence was provided by an informant who may not be telling the truth.
- Another person committed the crime and the defendant was misidentified.
- No crime actually took place – the incident was either fabricated or a misunderstanding.
There are a number of reasons why VUSCA charges could be dismissed or why evidence could be suppressed in a Washington drug case. Your attorney should look for sufficient legal reasons to have the charge or charges against you reduced or dismissed and to have the evidence against you kept out of court if possible. If you’re charged with any VUSCA violation, you’ll need a Washington criminal defense lawyer who routinely – and successfully – represents defendants facing VUSCA charges.