ARTICLE OVERVIEW: Louisiana has strict laws that govern drug possession and come with severe penalties. This article aims to teach you about the current laws and how alternative sentencing via drug court and treatment can help.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Basic Definitions
- Burden of Proof
- The Legal Process in Louisiana
- Specific Laws
- Misdemeanor Possession
- Felony Possession
- Other Penalties
- Alternative Sentencing
- When to Contact a Lawyer
- Your Questions
Louisiana is known as a party place. Economic expansion, flourishing tourism, and improvements to Louisiana’s infrastructure are partly responsible for increases in drug use in Louisiana. However, many drugs are illegal for use or possession in the state.In fact, drug possession is a criminal offense under this state’s jurisdiction.
First, let’s define what drug possession is. You are breaking the law if you’re in possession of drugs either for personal or sales purposes in Louisiana. So, how does Louisiana define drug possession vs. trafficking? Drug possession occurs:
“…When someone has on his or her person, or available for his or her use, a small amount of an illegal substance for the purpose of consuming or using it but without the intent to sell or give it to anyone else.” 
Burden of Proof
Though certain substances such as marijuana have been decriminalized, most drug possession charges within Louisiana are penalized as a felony. Yet, in order to be convicted of drug possession, the prosecutor establish the following:
1. LEGALITY. The prosecutor must have evidence that the defendant was in possession of an illegal and controlled substance under Louisiana law.
2. KNOWLEDGE. The prosecutor must have proof the defendant knew the substance s/he was in possession of was illegal and of a controlled substance.
3. CONTROL. The prosecutor must have proof the defendant was in control of the controlled substance and controlled its location and presence.
The Legal Process in Louisiana
What will happen after you are charged with drug possession in Louisiana? The legal process is fairly straight forward. According to the Office of the District Attorney for the 19th Judicial District Parish of East Baton Rouge,this is what follows :
1. You’ll first be arrested for the crime you have committed. From there, your arrest file will be sent to the Office of the District Attorney.
2. After an estimated 4 weeks after the arrest, the receipt of the file will be assigned to an individual prosecutor who will hold onto it until you’ve made your appearance in court or paid your fee, depending on the crime.
3. After another 2 weeks, the prosecutor will review this file and make determinations on how to properly carry out a trial. If there’s not enough sufficient evidence, s/he may call off a trial altogether.
4. If a trial is necessary, you’ll then receive a date for arraignment. This is when you’ll be brought to court before a judge. You will have the right to an attorney if you cannot afford one.
5. Afterward, you’ll receive a trial date. This is when you can plead your case and witnesses will be summoned. If you have been charged with a felony, then you’ll most likely receive a motion date instead. After the hearing of motions, then you’ll be assigned a trial date.
6. With both misdemeanors and felonies, you’ll need a status date. This is when the prosecutor and defense attorneys hold a meeting with the judge to settle any outstanding issues before your trial.
7. From there, you’ll have to attend the trial during which you’ll have the opportunity to defend yourself. After the court proceedings, it will be determined whether you’re guilty or not. If you’re found guilty, you’ll receive a sentence from the judge and go to court. If not, you’ll be released from the criminal justice system.
Penalties for Possession
The way the state determines penalties is determined by the specific drug’s schedule as an illicit substance. For example, if you’re in possession of a Schedule I drug, then you’ll most likely face harsher consequences in comparison to someone in possession of a Schedule III substance. Generally, the more addictive and dangerous the drug, the more severe the penalty.
Louisiana generally adopts the federal classification of drugs and schedules. Some of the drugs aren’t illegal, such as those listed as Schedule V Controlled Substances. And some of these drugs are legally obtainable with a prescription. However, if you don’t have a prescription and have these drugs on you, you can be charged as prosecuted just as with any other drug possession charge.
Following is a list of drug schedules for Louisiana in order from most dangerous to least :
Schedule I Controlled Substances. These drugs are considered to have no accepted medical use within the United States and hold a strong probability for abuse. These drugs include:
- Hallucinogens like LSD, peyote, and psylocybin
- Strong opiates
- Synthetic cannabinoids
Schedule II Controlled Substances. Similarly, these drugs are considered to have a high potential for both psychological and physical dependence with some accepted medical use. Schedule II drugs include:
Schedule III Controlled Substances. These drugs have less potential for abuse in comparison to Schedule I or II and have some potential accepted medical use. These drugs include:
- Anabolic steroids
- Depressants such as Amobarbitals and Secobarbitals
Schedule IV Controlled Substances. These drugs have a low potential for abuse and higher potential for medical use. These drugs include:
Schedule V Controlled Substances. These drugs have even lower potential for abuse and even higher potential for medical use. Schedule V drugs include:
- Cough preparations
40 La. Stat. Ann. § 964: Controlled Substances Schedule
40 La. Stat. Ann. § 966: Penalty for Distribution or Intent to Distribute
40 La. Stat. Ann. § 967: Title 40 Revised Statutes
40 La. Stat. Ann. § 969: Penalty for Distribution or Intent to Distribute
40 La. Stat. Ann § 982: Second or Subsequent Offenses
So, how does the Bayou State sentence people for drug possession?
Well, the answer depends on your circumstances. As already mentioned, if you’re in possession of a drug that has a high potential for abuse and little medical value, you’ll most likely have harsher sentencing. For all drugs, there’s a maximum fine of $5,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 5 years.
Still, there are reasons your sentencing can become more severe. For example, if you’re an illegal distributor and you’re caught on school property, you’re automatically given a more severe charge. Furthermore, let’s say you were also selling to a minor, then your consequences will heighten.
Below, you’ll find definitions for misdemeanor and felony so you can better understand what you might be facing. Also, see the section on alternative sentencing for more information on leniency in cases of drug dependence, addiction, or mental illness.
When you’re charged with a misdemeanor possession, it means your crime isn’t as serious as a felony. Therefore, you’ll receive less severe penalties. Most of the time, people who receive a misdemeanor only get a fine and minor amount of jail time.
Within Louisiana, the only drug that is charged as a misdemeanor is marijuana, thanks to its recent decriminalization. You can carry up to 14 grams before getting in serious trouble. However, with higher amounts of over 14 grams, you may be charged with the intent to sell which is automatically a felony. You’ll also most likely only be charged with a misdemeanor if you’re caught solely with paraphernalia.
If you receive a felony charge for drug possession, understand these are the most serious types of crimes that can be committed under the legal system. Though the penalties for each felony vary, you can expect to receive a large fine and a lengthy prison sentence.
If you’re charged with a felony in Louisiana, you might want to talk to a lawyer immediately. This is because there’s not as much consistency in the sentences people receive in comparison to other states…and you’ll truly need legal advice on how to proceed.
Some states measure out their crimes by degrees. For example, a first degree felony is considered the worse and has a list of penalties to follow. However, in the state of Louisiana, penalties are decided depending on the crime.
When it comes to drug possession charges, there’s a variety of different rules and regulations that play a role in it all. For example, if you were to hold more than 400 grams of a narcotic Schedule I drug, you’re automatically charged with a minimum fine of $250,000 and sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison. In all situations, these circumstances can worsen up to $600,000 and 30 years in prison depending on your situation.
Besides jail time and fines, you can receive other penalties for drug possession charges. For those who’ve committed a DUI, you’re going to have to go to a DUI school. For those who’ve been caught with marijuana twice, you may be placed on probation.
Just as with simple possession, the penalty you feel entirely depends on your circumstances. Common penalties within the state of Louisiana are:
- Inability to obtain a state license or certification.
- Inability to obtain specific employment.
- Inability to qualify for public housing.
- Ineligibility for certain college scholarships or financial aid.
- Ineligibility for certain types of government employment.
- License suspension.
- Potential community service.
- Potential drug treatment programs.
In Louisiana, there are a few different options you have to receive an alternative sentence. But this really isn’t really up to you. However, there is still the potential to avoid jail time, especially if you’re only a first time offender. You’ll want to talk to your lawyer about the following to get a sense of what you qualify for any of the following:
1. You may be eligible to request a Pretrial Diversion. This is a program which is solely for first-time nonviolent offenders who are looking for probation. You must perform multiple activities including reporting to a supervising officer on a monthly basis and taking random drug tests. You may also be assigned community service hours. However, as long as you refrain from committing crimes, you’ll avoid jail time.
2. If this isn’t your first conviction, you might be eligible for a Pretrial Intervention. This is another probation period during which you must report to court regularly and submit drug addiction assessment and evaluations. You’ll probably also have to enroll in a drug treatment facility.
3. In the state of Louisiana, you might qualify for a Drug Court . These are specialized courts that offer those who’ve been accused of drug possession the chance to turn their life around…instead of punitive treatment.
4. If there has been evidence taken against you which was illegally obtained, you have the right to declare a Motion to Suppress. This happens often in drug arrests as police make illegal encounters in order to find the drugs. You’ll want to have your case reviewed by a lawyer to see if you qualify for this option.
5. You can also Submit a Plea. This is for the sake of avoiding drug treatment and continuing through probation with as little consequences as possible. Since Louisiana is very strict when it comes to drug possession, it might be difficult to submit a plea. You’ll want to talk over the matter with your lawyer.
6. If none of the above work out, you’re going to have to Go to Trial and through the determination of either being guilty or not guilty.
When to Contact a Lawyer
When it comes to the Bayou State, drug possession charges can be tough to handle. With that in mind, we suggest you try to find a lawyer as soon as possible. When you consider how sentencing varies from case to case, you can see the significance a lawyer can have in lessening penalties and helping you out.
If you’re seeking legal help, you can get a free legal consultation at most law offices. You’ll want to do a deep search before determining which lawyer is right for you. Each lawyer will have their own specialties and, depending on your case, you might want a legal counselor to do more for you than just defend. You may want to request that the court seal your record or you may want a lawyer to investigate the situation, for example.
However, some people can’t afford a lawyer. Instead, you might qualify for a public defender. This is a free lawyer who will offer you legal advice for when your court date comes.
If you’re seeking a lawyer in Louisiana, there are a few things you can do. First, check in with the Bar’s Association Directory of Louisiana. There, you’ll find all the information you need about the lawyer you have in mind including specialization and licensing.Here’s a link to the Louisiana State Bar Association.
Additionally, you can look for personal reviews and testimonials. Finally, you might be able to find a good lawyer through word-of-mouth. Asking family and close friends can be the best way to find a reputable and trusted drug possession lawyer near you.
Still have questions?
Leave them in the comments section below. Though this article attempted to offer you as much information as possible, we may have missed something. If so, we invite you to ask any remaining questions you have in the comments below. If you have any further information to give on drug possession laws in Louisiana, we’d also love to hear from you. We try to reply to each comment in a prompt and personal manner.