A Quick Guide to Virginia’s Heroin Laws

The opioid epidemic is a serious problem in many Virginian counties and cities. Especially in regards to heroin, these laws can be incredibly strict.

Virginia law treats the manufacture, possession, and sale of heroin and related opiates as serious criminal offenses.

As felony offenses, all three crimes entail extreme penalties, including steep fines and long prison sentences.

In some cases, the state of Virginia may even sentence individuals convicted of heroin distribution to life in prison.

In this article, we’ll talk about how Virginia defines and punishes heroin-related crimes.

However, this article is no substitute for the advice of an experienced lawyer.

If you have been charged with heroin manufacture, possession, or distribution, get in touch with legal counsel immediately.

Failing to do so could have extreme consequences for your rights and continued freedom.

Possession of Heroin

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Virginia defines heroin, its derivatives, and related opiates as Schedule 1 controlled substances.

This is the most dangerous class of controlled substance, and the state treats crimes involving these opiates extremely seriously.

Possessing illegal opiates, in any amount, is a Class 5 felony in Virginia.

In addition, possessing any type of drug paraphernalia is a Class 1 misdemeanor.

In Virginia, “possession” simply means that the police found the substance in an area you have exclusive or joint control over.

This means you don’t have to actually own the substance to end up with a possession charge.

For example, if a friend leaves their heroin in your home and you know about it, that’s possession under Virginia law.

Similarly, if there is heroin in your car, and you can reach it, you might also end up with a possession charge, regardless of who owns it.

However, it only counts as possession if you know the drugs were there.

If you can prove that you had no knowledge of the controlled substance, you may be able to avoid possession charges.

Penalties

As mentioned before, possession of heroin is a Class 5 felony in Virginia.

However, if the state chooses to do so, they can also lower this charge to a Class 1 misdemeanor.

Usually, this is done as part of a plea agreement negotiated in advance of the trial.

In this way, there are a few potential penalties for a heroin possession charge in Virginia:

  • The state may try the crime as a misdemeanor. In that case, the maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail. In addition, the Virginia DMV will immediately suspend your license for a period of six months.
  • The state can also try the crime as a felony. In that case, the maximum penalty is a $2,500 fine and up to ten years in prison. In addition, you will permanently lose many of your civil rights, including your right to vote, own a firearm, and to run for public office.
  • If you were in possession of a firearm at the time of your arrest, you will also be charged with a Class 6 felony. This felony has a mandatory minimum sentence of two years. Its maximum sentence is five years in prison, along with a $2,500 fine.

Manufacturing and Distributing Heroin

Police arrest drug trafficker with handcuffs.

Virginia treats the manufacture and distribution of heroin as a separate, more severe charge than simple possession.

However, it can also be very difficult to prove that an individual intended to distribute the drugs found in their possession.

While the presence of large amounts of controlled substances can be evidence of distribution, it’s not proof by itself.

Instead, the state will have to offer additional evidence to make its case.

Here are just a few examples of evidence that the state can use to argue for intent to distribute:

  • Communications from friends or clients pointing to distribution. This includes both phone and text communications, which the police may access with a valid warrant.
  • The packaging of the substances. Substances found in large numbers of individual packages tend to point towards intent to distribute.
  • Cash in the vicinity of the drugs.
  • Firearms, especially if kept in an unsecured location.
  • Large amounts of drug paraphernalia.
  • Electronic scales and other measuring or packaging tools.

Keep in mind that “distribution” doesn’t necessarily mean selling in Virginia.

Sharing controlled substances, or otherwise giving them away for free, is still distribution under Virginia law.

Distributing Drugs to a Minor

Distributing controlled substances to a minor at least three years younger than you is also a felony in Virginia.

The same is true of distributing a controlled substance with the help of a minor.

In either case, the Virginia Code assigns a penalty of 10 to 50 years in prison, and a fine of up to $100,000.

Penalties for Distributing Heroin

The exact penalty for distributing heroin, or related compounds, can be affected by the amount that the police found you with.

Additionally, if the state has previously found you guilty of distributing controlled substances, the penalties increase significantly.

In general, however, the penalties are distributed as follows:

  • For less than 100 grams of heroin, the penalty is a fine of up to $500,000 and between 5 and 40 years in prison. Upon a second conviction, the prison term may be raised to life. Upon a third conviction, the mandatory minimum becomes ten years in prison, with the maximum being life.
  • At 100 grams or more, the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000,000 and 5 years to life in prison.
  • If you were the principal administrator in an organization trafficking 1 kilogram of heroin or more, the penalty is fine of up to $1,000,000 and 20 years to life in prison.
  • If you were the principal administrator in an organization trafficking 5 kilograms of heroin or more, the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000,000 and life in prison.

However, if you can demonstrate that you distributed heroin on the behalf of another person, the penalty is 12 months to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

In this case, you’ll have to prove that you did so without the intent to profit from the enterprise.

For example, sharing drugs with a spouse or friend still counts as distribution, but can lead to lower (though still incredibly serious) penalties.

Note that the amounts given above take into account mixtures of heroin and other substances.

This means that distributing a mixture of 300 grams of heroin and 200 grams of another substance is punishable identically to distributing 500 grams of heroin.

Conclusion

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Due in large part to the War on Drugs and the recent opioid epidemic, Virginia treats heroin-related crime extremely seriously.

If you’ve been charged with either possession or distribution of heroin, you need to contact a lawyer immediately.

A strong legal defense can mean the difference between minor penalties and spending the rest of your life in prison.

Hire a lawyer for just $29/month

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A Client-First Approach to Legal Services

Ready to Speak with an Attorney?

We’re a Richmond, Virginia law firm with clients from around the world. Schedule your free phone consultation today and let’s talk about what we can do for you!

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