Experienced Drug Defense Lawyer for Spokane and Surrounding Areas
Steve Graham was rated one of Spokane's top five criminal lawyers by the magazine
Spokane - Couer d'Alene Living. Mr. Graham is a recognized nationwide authority on the subject of drugs,
marijuana DUI charges,
police police practices and
other drug issues, and writes on these topics in his law blog.
As a criminal attorney, Mr. Graham has handled hundreds of drug offenses since starting in 1995. From this hands-on experience Mr. Graham has gained insight to how narcotics detectives and prosecutors prepare such cases. Investigations are often flawed, and constitutional rights are often overlooked. It is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to thoroughly review the case and to fight for the rights of a client. Whether your case is in Spokane, Okanogan, Grant, Stevens County or elsewhere, it is important to have an experienced criminal defense lawyer by your side.
Drugs that Are Prohibited
In Washington law, prohibited drugs include marijuana (under 21 years of age), hashish, powdered cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, Oxycontin, methadone, heroin, psilocybin, LSD, prescription pills, and legend drugs. Drug penalties are not the same for all categories. Marijuana is perhaps the drug that a criminal defense lawyer is most likely to see in court. Under Washington law, for a person under the age of 21, possession of marijuana in an amount less than 40 grams is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Under law there is a mandatory one day in jail for such a crime, but courts often find a way around such penalty. In my practice as a defense attorney, possession of marijuana is often taken more seriously by courts in rural counties such as Ferry, Stevens, Okanogan, or even Grant County, than in metropolitan areas such as Spokane. Some cities, such as Seattle, have made marijuana charges their lowest priorities. As far as the illegal possession of prescription pills, the penalties depend on whether the pill was listed as a controlled substance or a legend drug, and whether the drug is listed by the federal government as Schedule II, III, IV, or V. Controlled substance prescription pills include such drugs as oxycodone and methadone. The possession of cocaine or methamphetamine in any amount in Washington State is a felony. It is important to have a skilled Spokane drug lawyer on your side.
The Outcome of Drug Possession Cases
In Spokane, a person charged with possession of marijuana may see the case resolved with a relatively simple sentence. However, in Washington's rural counties, the average possession of marijuana case can be a bit more complicated. Because the case load is not as high, rural counties sometimes will seek supervised probation for a conviction of possession of marijuana. Urinalysis testing will prove problematic for a recreational user of marijuana who does not wish to refrain entirely from using that drug. It is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to advise his or her client of all the likely consequences of a drug conviction. Additionally, some courts will order that a person convicted of possession of marijuana obtain a chemical dependency evaluation to determine if they are "addicted" to the drug. In this instance, it is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to refer the defendant to a qualified chemical dependency evaluator who is sensible and can tell the difference between an infrequent user and a person who is dependent on any substance. A court-ordered evaluation is much more common for defendants convicted of drugs possessing such drugs as methamphetamine, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin etc. Under Washington law, the possession of heroin or cocaine brings a standard range punishment of 0 to 6 months in jail. If the defendant has a criminal record, the penalties can be higher. Under Washington law, the possession of over 40 grams of marijuana is a felony. Even a misdemeanor conviction for possession of marijuana under 40 grams can affect a person's eligibility for certain federal student loans. Steve Graham is a drug attorney that can make a difference on your charges.
Possession with Intent to Deliver
Under Washington statutes, a distinction is drawn between simple possession and possession with intent to deliver. Prosecutors attempt to prove intent to deliver by showing a large amount of drugs, by showing sales records, a large amount of money, or the presence of scales. However, under the case of State v. Lopez, proof of possession of a large amount of drugs, without more, may not support a finding of intent to deliver. Additionally a consumer of drugs may simply have a scale to assure that he is getting what he pays for. The presence of paraphernalia such as pipes or needles is often used by a criminal defense lawyer to show that the defendant intended to use the substance himself rather than sell it. Possession with intent to deliver is punishable under Washington law much the same way delivery is. One count of possession of methamphetamine, heroin, or cocaine with intent to deliver brings a standard range sentence of 12 to 20 months for a person with no prior record. The possession of marijuana with intent to deliver brings a standard range penalty of 0 to 6 months. There is often a fine line between "possession" and "possession with intent to
deliver." It is important to have a criminal defense lawyer with experience in drug cases who can fight such a serious accusation. In order to prove intent to deliver, prosecutors will often try to bring up a defendant's prior alleged instances of delivery, or prior convictions. Generally speaking, this is not allowed under the case of State v. Wade, and a defense lawyer needs to fight tooth and nail to keep such evidence out so that his client is not prejudiced in the eyes of the jury.
Proving Possession: "Actual" versus "Constructive" Possession
Under Washington law a prosecutor can convict for possession by showing actual or constructive possession of the drug in question. "Actual possession" exists where drugs are in the personal custody of the individual charged with possession. "Constructive possession" exists where a person not in actual possession still has dominion and control over the object or place where the police found the drug. Police and prosecutors often try to charge a person with possession of a drug simply for being present where the drug was found. This is improper. The State Supreme Court was very clear in State v. Jones, explaining: "mere proximity is not enough to establish possession". In my practice this often arises in situations when drugs are found in a vehicle that has more than one occupant. The police will often attempt to charge the driver or the owner of the vehicle without any proof that the drugs belonged to any one person. Likewise, an occupant of a car will often be charged simply because the drugs were under his or her seat. It is the job of a defense lawyer to bring a motion to dismiss such charges if the circumstances are right. It is important to note the failure of the police to finger print the packaging containing the drug. Under Washington law, a person must "knowingly" possess the drugs to be convicted. In my practice, I often see young people charged with a drug possession simply for being in a vehicle that contains drugs in someone else pocket, purse or backpack. No person can vouch 100% for every single person they ever road in a car with. Under Washington law, there is really no distinction in the penalty or sentence as to whether the possession was actual or constructive.
Identification of the Drug
Police officers often conduct a "field test" of a suspected drug when making an arrest. However this "field test" is not sufficiently reliable to be admissible in court. It is the prosecutor's job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance in question was, in fact, a controlled substance. It is the job of a criminal defense lawyer to make sure such tests are accurate. The testing is usually done by a chemical analysis. Sometimes with marijuana, a microscopic visual observation is done by a qualified marijuana "leaf technician." It is important that the defense lawyer check to make sure that the chain of custody is preserved when the drug is shipped to the lab for testing. When an analysis is done, it is not enough for the analyst to simply mail the results back to the prosecutor. Under the case of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, a lab analyst must come in person to testify at the jury trial unless the defendant waives that right. This requirement can often be used as bargain chip in plea negotiations. The prosecutor might have an air tight case against a defendant, but the government typically does not want to incur the expense of bring witnesses to court. Jurisdictions such as Ferry County, Stevens County, and Okanogan County typically rely on drug test analysts from Spokane to make the trip to court. Sometimes, by the time the case goes to trial, a lab analyst has moved on to employment elsewhere.
In some jurisdictions, drug court programs have been set up to specifically address felony charges that have come about due to drug addiction. Although programs vary, drug court is typically available for drug offenses and non-violent crimes. There is an intense level of monitoring and personal attention in drug court. Successful participants can request that their charge be dismissed upon completion. The jurisdictions of Ferry County, Stevens County, and Pend Oreille County do not currently have drug court. Drug court programs exist in Okanogan County and Spokane County.
One of the current battle grounds in State drug law is medical marijuana. In 1998 voters passed Initiative I-692 which permits marijuana use by patients with certain terminal or debilitating health conditions. The law gives patients and their primary caregivers an "affirmative defense" in court if they are prosecuted. Users of medical marijuana are learning that the law does not protect patients or their caregivers from arrest or search by police; rather it only allows them to present a medical marijuana defense in court. More information can be obtained from Green Cross, PO Box 80784, Seattle, WA 98108. The voter initiative does not affect federal law, which still prohibits marijuana outright. Unfortunately sick patients who use marijuana may still find themselves in need of a criminal defense attorney.
How the Police Discover the Drugs
As we learn from civics class in school, the U.S. Constitution limits the ability of the police to search your home or your car, and even your pockets. In Washington, our State Constitution gives local residents an even greater right to privacy. The laws and the court cases that govern such searches are extremely complicated even for lawyers to understand, much less police officers who have not attended law school. Unlike lawyers who can research legal precedent before making a decision, the police make off-the-cuff decisions as to what steps they can take to search an individual, or whether they can stop a car. Consequently the legality of such searches is usually hard fought by defense attorneys in court. The legal precedent of Mapp v. Ohio dictates that if drugs are found during an illegal search, such evidence cannot be used in a court of law. As a criminal defense attorney, I do a lot of cases where drugs are found in vehicles that are searched while crossing the international border. The border counties with Canada where I practice are Okanogan County, Ferry County, Stevens County, and Pend Oreille. While the border patrol and customs agents have broad powers to search incoming vehicles, their powers are not absolute. It is important for Canadian citizens to seek qualified representation in court. Canadians often face immigration issues, and face being prohibited from entering the U.S.
An Experienced Drug Defense Attorney:
Whether your charge is in Spokane, Lincoln, Stevens, Whitman, Grant, Adams, or Okanogan County, you deserve a skilled drug defense lawyer to properly defend you. When you sit down with defense lawyer Steve Graham for a consultation, he will look at the specific drug allegation brought against you. He properly advises clients as to how he can best provide an effective defense strategy. Because of his experience and training, lawyer Steve Graham can defend people in an innovative and thorough manner. These serious allegations call for a criminal defense attorney that is aggressive and dedicated. Avoiding convictions is always the top goal that Steve Graham has for his clients. Mr. Graham has an 86% "Not Guilty" rate for criminal jury trials, and he looks forward to applying his tenacity to your court case.
Would you like to discuss your case with Steve Graham? He is available for free consultations on cases in eastern Washington. You won't get a sales pitch, or any judgments made about what you have done. You will simply receive his honest opinion, and he will listen and answer your questions. Call (509) 252-9167. If he is out, he can usually get back to you within a few hours.
Areas where Mr. Graham practices: Spokane County, WA; Stevens County; Okanogan County; Colville WA; Ferry County; Republic WA; Lincoln County; Davenport, WA; Cheney, WA; Grant County; Moses Lake; Ephrata WA; Whitman County, Pullman and Colfax, WA, Pend Oreille County, Adams County; Ritzville WA; Chelan County, Wenatchee; Nespelem; Colville Tribal Court.
Please visit Mr. Graham's most recent blog post on Initiative 502. Initiative 502 contains many provisions liberalizing Washington State marijuana policy. However there are certain provisions that make it much easier for police and prosecutors to convict a person of "marijuana DUI" because the law sets a per se limit of 5 nanograms per mililiter of blood.