Common Misconceptions Regarding Drug Cases in Utah
Interviewer: What would you say are the top common misconceptions that people have about drug cases? What are the areas of confusion that clients have?
Matthew Nebeker: I think one of the biggest things is they think that there is no defense for them. They come in and say, “They found the stuff on me. They found the cocaine on me. How can I beat that?” That’s when I have to go in and explain to them that there are a lot of defenses available for them.
Anywhere from how they were stopped, how they were searched, how the drugs were stored, how the drugs were analyzed. Each step in that process, if there’s a mistake made or their rights were violated, that can be a defense for them.
There are Several Diversion Programs Available for Drug Related Offenders in Utah
Even if there isn’t a clear cut defense, there are several programs out there that can help them get their charges dismissed. What I’m talking about is diversion programs and drug court programs. Under certain conditions, you would qualify for the diversion programs. What it was is you’d plead guilty to some level of charge, some misconduct or wrongdoing. The court would order you into treatment, order you to pay a fine and to stay out of trouble. At the end of 12 to 18 months, if you completed everything, you demonstrate to the court that you hadn’t relapsed, that you had addressed the issue, then the case and the charges could be dismissed against the person.
The same with the drug court. It’s a little like the diversion program but it’s a little more intense. There’s a little bit more oversight and supervision. You’re checking in with the court more often. You’re held accountable to your peers and things like that. There’s a team that’s watching over you. If you successfully complete a program like that, then the charges could be reduced or actually dismissed. You need an attorney that’s dealt with those kind of programs to know if the person qualifies for them, what things to look for to help them to get the best way to get in the program and make the program work for them.
The Biggest Misconception that People Have is that there is No Hope and they are going to Prison
To answer the question, the biggest misconception is that they just think there’s no hope for them and they’re going to go to prison. I’ve noticed that that really scares a lot of people but there are a lot of things we can do for them. The interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that people are more afraid of being away from their controlled substance in prison than going to prison. The thought of going to prison, not being able to have their medication, as a lot of people call it, is so overwhelming for them that they just shut down.
That’s where an experienced attorney comes in and helps them work with those issues and lets them know that there are programs that we can help them get to all of it.
People Take Possession of Marijuana Charges Lightly because it is Becoming Legal in Other Jurisdictions
Another misconception that I’ve seen lately is dealing with the marijuana, the small doses of marijuana. A lot of people see that in other jurisdictions, it’s becoming legal and it’s becoming a big business. Sometimes they think, “If it’s legal in the state next door, how bad are they going to punish me if I’m caught with a little bit of marijuana?” We see a lot of that kind of attitude. When these people enter in to the court system, they are suddenly shocked of what the consequences of a minor, a small class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana – how it affects their life and their record.
First of all, it starts off with if you’re convicted of any crime under the Controlled Substance Act or the Drug Paraphernalia Act – there’s about five or six or seven of these acts – if you’re convicted of anything under them, it’s an automatic license suspension for your driver’s license.
Six months. Someone will be in college and just go in and maybe have a little bit – you’re caught smoking joint or something at a party and they’ll go in and they’ll plead guilty to it. A few weeks later, they get a letter in the mail from the Driver’s License Division that says, “Based on this conviction, your license has now been suspended for six months.”
Marijuana Possession is an Enhance able Offense which can escalate to Felony Level if Repeated
No one ever told them that that would happen to them at court. I see that happen all the time. A lot of these offenses are what they call “enhanceable.” Your first, for instance, possession of marijuana charge would be a Class B misdemeanor. If you get another one six months or a year, two years later, they can charge it as an A misdemeanor, which possibly puts you from six months in jail to a year in jail. If you get a third marijuana possession, then you’re looking at a third degree felony. A lot of recreational users that use these small amounts of marijuana could end up having a felony in a very short time for just smoking a joint every now and then. I don’t want to sound like that’s not that big of a deal.
Marijuana Possession or Usage is still considered a Serious Offense in Utah
It is a big deal still in Utah to do that, to possess and use marijuana even in those small amounts. That’s how a lot of people find themselves in a lot of trouble quickly for those small amounts. Another thing that I see a lot is these are enhanceable not only for prior convictions and enhanceable for use around the school or a church or especially in specifically designated buildings. If you’re stopped, they find marijuana in your car and you’re stopped in front of a church, instead of being a Class B misdemeanor the prosecutor can bump it up to an A misdemeanor, which is, once again, your drug charge ends up being more serious than the DUI that you were originally stopped for.