What are the consequences of a drug crime conviction in Tennessee?

People accused of drug-related offenses in Tennessee should be familiar with the legal consequences and other ramifications that can follow a conviction.

In 2014, charges for drug-related infractions were one of the most common criminal charges that people in Tennessee faced, according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Over 47,000 individuals were charged with drug-related criminal offenses, and this figure doesn't even reflect offenses that involved drug-related equipment. Given this high rate of drug crime charges, it's essential for people in Chattanooga to understand the potential consequences associated with a conviction.

How is drug possession punished?

A first-time charge of simple possession or casual exchange of a controlled substance under Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-17-418 is a Class A misdemeanor. This offense can be punished with up to 11 months and 29 days in jail and fines of up to $2,500. A violation under Tennessee Code Annotated § 39-17-418 is a felony if a person has two (2) or more prior convictions under this section.

It's important to note that these charges typically only are used in cases involving the alleged possession of small amounts of a controlled substance. Possession of larger amounts can lead to more serious charges, such as possession with intent to sell.

What are the sanctions for other offenses?

Sale, manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, along with possession with intent to sell, are felony offenses in Tennessee. The associated sanctions vary as based on the type of drug, the amount of the drug, and other statutory factors. Felony drug offenses range from Class A felonies to Class E felonies. Ranges of sentences vary depending on a person's criminal history and class of felony. For a Range I Offender, a Class A felony carries a range of 15 to 25 years, a Class B felony carries a range of 8 to 12 years, a Class C felony carries a range of 3 to 6 years, a Class D felony carries a range of 2 to 4 years, and a Class E felony carries a range of 1 to 2 years.

Tennessee residents and visitors should note that the state does not utilize the same drug schedules as the federal government. Marijuana and synthetic marijuana products are considered Schedule 6 drugs in Tennessee, rather than Schedule 1 drugs as under federal law. Felony possession of marijuana may be charged as anything from a Class E to a Class A felony, dependent largely on the amount of the substance present.

What are the other potential consequences?

A drug offense conviction may also have various other harmful long-term effects. These include limiting a person's ability to find employment, ability to own a firearm, affecting one's eligibility for federal student aid, and may have immigration consequences. Additionally, people who are convicted of certain offenses that involve methamphetamine, amphetamine and other stimulants are added to the Tennessee Drug Offender Registry, which is publicly searchable.

A strong defense is essential

Given these various serious consequences, it is crucial for people facing drug possession charges to consider seeking legal assistance. An attorney may be able to help a person challenge the validity of the charges or the supporting evidence. Alternatively, an attorney may be able to help a person seek a less damaging outcome in the event of a conviction.