An opioid epidemic has gripped the county, and as a result, law enforcement in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County treat heroin and its pharmaceutical counterparts extremely seriously. Police and prosecutors take a tough stance on these substances, and though every case is unique, you likely face significant time behind bars for heroin possession in Pittsburgh. When you want to know what you’re up against immediately, trust an experienced heroin defense lawyer to explain all your options and how to best proceed.
At Worgul, Sarna, & Ness, Criminal Defense Attorneys, our drug lawyers in Pittsburgh are dedicated to delivering knowledgeable legal services in all drug cases. We know what you’re going through and realize that even if you were in possession of heroin, you are likely best served by treatment and diversion programs rather than prison. You can rely on our legal team to shoulder the legal burden as we work to obtain the best possible outcome.
Pennsylvania Heroin Possession and Trafficking Laws
Heroin is classified as a Schedule I substance within the Pennsylvania Health and Safety Code, the highest possible schedule. Drugs included in this listing are those that:
- Have a high potential for abuse by users;
- Aren’t currently acceptable for any medical use by health care practitioners in the US; and,
- Cannot be administered safely for use, even under supervision of a physician.
Controlled substances falling within the Schedule I category are typically charged as felonies, even for first-time offenders found in possession of small amounts intended for personal use. The charges can be elevated to a higher degree felony for possession of larger amounts or if you have a prior criminal history.
This means heroin possession, distribution, and trafficking are among the most serious drug crimes in the Commonwealth.
Heroin Possession Penalties
A heroin possession charge is a misdemeanor. Depending on the amount and other factors, you face 1-5 years’ incarceration and a fine ranging from $2,000-$10,000:
- For a first conviction, you can be sentenced to up to one year in prison.
- For a second conviction, you could serve up to two years in prison.
- For a third conviction, you could serve up to three years in prison.
Additionally, your driver’s license will be suspended for six months for a first offense, one year for a second offense, and two years for a third offense. A heroin conviction can negatively impact other areas of your life, like your ability to get a job, pass security clearances, or obtain custody of children. You may also be ineligible for certain types of financial aid.
Heroin Trafficking or PWID Penalties
You may face a felony heroin charge for trafficking, manufacturing, distribution, delivery or PWID. The penalties increase dramatically based on the amount of the drug, so:
- You could be sentenced up to 20 years imprisonment for a first-degree felony;
- A second-degree heroin felony charge could lead to a maximum of 10 years’; and,
- Your imprisonment sentence could be up to seven years for a third-degree felony.
Heroin PWID and related acts trigger Pennsylvania’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws. This means that a judge won’t have the discretion to reduce your sentence if you’re convicted, even in the presence of extenuating circumstances.
Defending Against Pittsburgh Heroin Charges
There are multiple strategies for fighting heroin charges, starting with attacking the prosecutor’s case. In Pennsylvania, for you to be convicted of possessing a controlled substance, prosecutors must prove the following:
- You knowingly and intentionally had control of an illegal drug.
- You knew the drugs were illegal, you knew the drugs were present, and you intended to use or control them.
- You either had actual or constructive possession of a controlled substance. In other words, you had the drug on your person, such as in your pocket, or in a spot that you had control over, like the trunk of your car or hidden under your bed.
In a criminal trial, the state goes first by offering evidence and witness testimony. During this presentation, your heroin defense attorney can pinpoint weaknesses in the facts. By doing so, your lawyer can raise doubts in the minds of the judge or jury. You could be acquitted if these questions prevent the prosecutor from proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition, once it’s your turn to present your case, your attorney can offer evidence and testimony to dispute the charges. Potential defenses include:
- Unlawful search by police, who must have a warrant or probable cause to arrest you for heroin charges;
- Entrapment, where police use schemes to persuade you to commit the crime;
- Defenses based upon the amount of heroin, which could lower the charges from a felony to a misdemeanor heroin possession charge; or,
- Other defense strategies depending on the circumstances of your case.
What to Do After Being Arrested for Heroin
The moment you’re charged with any type of heroin offense, you need to contact an experienced Pittsburgh drug crimes attorney. A heroin lawyer can get involved in your case as early as possible, giving them time to strategize and build the most effective defense possible.
Legal representation is also important during police questioning to protect you from giving statements that could be used against you. Don’t talk to the police or prosecutors unless your attorney is with you.
An experienced drug crime attorney will have worked with the prosecutors handling your case many times before. They can draw on their relationships and understanding of the local court system to lessen or dismiss your charges. Your lawyer will go over what happened both before and after your arrest. Importantly, they will assess whether there was probable cause to charge you with a crime. This includes determining if the heroin really belonged to you.