Drug Charges

How Can Fairlie & Lippy Help You Win Your Pennsylvania Drug Case?

Recent reports indicate that drug-related offenses account for approximately one-third of all arrests in Pennsylvania. Drug charges can have severe consequences, including forfeiture of property, suspension of Driver’s License, and incarceration. If you are facing drug charges, the best way to take action is to speak with an experienced Pennsylvania Drug Lawyer. As a former prosecutor from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office Narcotics team, managing partner Steven Fairlie is well-versed in all aspects of handling drug cases. He has handled every type of drug case, from 550 kilos of cocaine in a tractor trailer to Possession of a Small Amount of Marihuana or Drug Paraphernalia, and he works every case using the same methodology and concepts. He has handled drug forfeiture cases and managed to save the home of a woman who had a forfeiture order entered against her home while represented by another attorney. He has convinced a Judge that 28 grams of cocaine was possessed for personal use rather than Possession With Intent to Deliver, making it a misdemeanor instead of a felony and avoiding a three year mandatory minimum state prison sentence. He is familiar with Carroll hearings, wherein he argues to the Court that a portion of drugs possessed were for personal use, so that no mandatory minimum applies to the balance of the weight. He has handled cases involving just about every drug around – some of the more common being Marihuana, Crack and powder Cocaine, Heroin, Methamphetamine (and crystal meth), MDMA, Psychedelic Mushrooms, Oxycodone, Percocet, Xanax, and many more.

Steven Fairlie is intimately familiar with suppression hearings and the applicable case law, and has had many cases dismissed based on suppression of illegally obtained evidence (car stops without probable cause, illegal search warrants, and coerced consent searches).  He is knowledgeable in strategies such as reducing a charge of Acquisition of a Controlled Substance By Fraud under the Drug Act (which carries an offense gravity score the same as armed robbery) to a charge under the Pharmacy Act (which is a very minor offense). Steven frequently lectures at seminars for lawyers around the state, including a recent presentation at the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyer’s statewide seminar “The Defense of Narcotics cases” in State College. Whether you are looking to fight tooth and nail, or prefer to cut a deal or cooperate with the authorities, Steven Fairlie can provide you with the professional advice and direction that you need.  Call 215-997-1000 for a free no-obligation consultation.

Drug Laws Generally

Pennsylvania drug penalties can be harsh. In many cases there are mandatory minimum penalties if you are convicted. “Mandatory minimum” refers to the minimum sentence a person convicted of a particular crime must receive under the Pennsylvania state or federal sentencing guidelines, regardless of any extenuating circumstances or mitigating factors. Specifically, drug charges in Pennsylvania can be divided into two broad categories:

  • Simple possession
  • Manufacturing, delivering, or possessing with an intent to deliver

Possession Charges

What is needed to convict?

In Pennsylvania, to prove a charge of possession, the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  • The defendant knowingly and intentionally possessed a controlled substance (without a valid prescription)
  • The defendant knew the drug was an illegal controlled substance
  • The defendant had actual or constructive control or possession of the drug
    • Actual possession of an item is when someone knowingly holds, carries, or otherwise directly controls the possession of that item. Constructive possession requires knowledge of an item and intent/power to possess it. For example, if you are at work you have constructive possession of the clothes in your closet at home: you know about the clothes and you have the intention of and power to wear them at some point in the future.

What Penalties am I potentially facing?

Penalties for drug offense convictions in Pennsylvania differ by the type of drug, the amount in question, prior criminal record, and particular facts of the case. Talking to an experienced drug-defense lawyer about your particular case is the only way to learn accurate information applicable to your case. Below are rough guidelines for various possession convictions in Pennsylvania.

Possession of Marihuana in Pennsylvania:
  • 30 grams or less: Misdemeanor penalties of up to 30 days in jail and/or a fine of $500
  • More than 30 grams: Penalties increase to a maximum of one year in jail and/or $5,000 in fines
  • Automatic six-month loss of license
Possession of other Controlled Substances
  • Up to one year in prison and/or $5,000 fine for first offense
  • Up to three years in prison and/or fine not exceeding $25,000 if the violation is committed after a prior conviction for ANY offense under the Drug Act (including Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana or Possession of Drug Paraphernalia)
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
  • Up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500

Drug Overdose Response Immunity Law

In 2014 Pennsylvania lawmakers enacted a “Good Samaritan Law” with regards to drug overdose events. Under this law, a person who would otherwise be subject to prosecution for Unlawful Possession of a Controlled Substance, Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana, Possession of Drug Paraphernalia, and/or certain other misdemeanor drug offenses, as well as for a violation of probation or parole, is immune from prosecution if the person can establish the following:

  1. Law enforcement officers only became aware of the person’s commission of such offense because the person transported a person experiencing a drug overdose event to a law enforcement agency, a campus security office or a health care facility; OR
  2. All of the following apply:
    • The person reported, in good faith, a drug overdose event to a law enforcement officer or emergency services personnel and the report was made on the reasonable belief that another person was in need of immediate medical attention and was necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury due to a drug overdose;
    • The person provided his own name and location and cooperated with the law enforcement officer, 911 system, campus security officer or emergency services personnel; AND
    • The person remained with the person needing immediate medical attention until a law enforcement officer, a campus security officer or emergency services personnel arrived.

The person who has overdosed should receive the same immunity if the person who transported him or reported the incident is entitled to immunity.

Common actions that disqualify people from immunity under this law include lying to police or emergency personnel about what happened or what substance the person who overdosed has used and attempting to conceal drugs, drug paraphernalia, etc. from police or emergency services personnel.

Drug Dealing or Drug Trafficking Charges

How are these charges different from possession? The primary difference between drug dealing or drug trafficking charges and a charge of possession is that possession is when the controlled substance is for personal use without the intent to distribute the substance to another individual. Dealing or trafficking on the other hand can be divided into four broad sub-categories:

  • Manufacture or creation of a controlled substance with an intent to distribute
  • Selling or delivering a controlled substance to another
  • Possession of a controlled substance in amounts large enough that presuppose intent to deliver. Here, the prosecution may rely on the type of drugs, the amount, the type of packaging used, the amount of money possessed, and similar circumstantial evidence.
  • Conspiracy whereby you are charged for working in conjunction with, or aiding another individual who is dealing or trafficking a controlled substance.

In addition, the penalties for drug dealing or drug trafficking are generally more severe and are classified as “felony” offenses.

What penalties am I potentially facing?

Penalties for drug offense convictions differ by the type of drug, the amount in question, prior criminal record, and facts of the case. Talking to an experienced drug-defense lawyer about your particular case is the only way to learn accurate information applicable to your case. Most substances are categorized by the federal drug Schedule classifications. Below are rough guidelines for various intent to deliver or manufacture convictions in Pennsylvania:

  • For a Schedule I or II drug (narcotic, e.g. Heroin) – up to 15 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine
  • For phencyclidines (PCP), methamphetamines, cocaine and its derivatives, or Marihuana in excess of 1,000 pounds – up to 10 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine.
  • For any other Schedule I, II, or III drug not included above – up to five years in prison and up to a $15,000 fine.
  • For a Schedule IV drug – up to three years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
  • For a Schedule V drug – up to one year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine.

Mandatory Minimum Sentences

UPDATE: In 2015 all drug-related mandatory minimum sentences in Pennsylvania were declared unconstitutional.  The information below was accurate prior to that date, and is relevant as there are bills to reinstate mandatory minimum sentences that could pass at any time (and we may not remember to update this page when that happens).

There are also mandatory minimum sentences that kick in for the weight of the drug, proximity to a school zone, or possession or proximity of a weapon to drugs when someone is charged with Possession With Intent to Deliver in Pennsylvania. Example so Pennsylvania Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences include:

  • Cocaine – one year for 2-10 grams, three years for 10-100 grams, five years for 100+
  • Marijuana – one year for 2-10 pounds, three years for 10-50 pounds, 5 years for 50+
  • Heroin – two years for 1-5 grams, three years for 5-50 grams, 5 years for 50+
  • Meth – three years for 5-10 grams, four years for 10-100 grams, five years for 100+
  • Possession With Intent to Deliver using or near a firearm – 5 years
  • School Zone – 2 years

There are other maximum and mandatory minimum penalties that can apply to Pennsylvania drug cases and the rules can change without an update to this website so be sure to check with an experienced Pennsylvania Drug Lawyer.

Depending on the charges, you may also face separate Federal penalties for drug distribution, sale, or trafficking.

Forfeiture: After a home or a car is searched for controlled substances, the government often attempts to seize the property where the alleged criminal activity occurred if they can show that the property was used in the commission of the criminal activity. It is therefore critical to consult an experienced narcotics attorney if you are facing drug related charges to fight back and keep what is yours.


Constitutional Defenses: The 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. The 5th Amendment to the United States Constitution protects against abuse of government authority in a legal procedure. Search and seizure is a critical aspect of any drug case. Law enforcement officers must follow very specific search and seizure rules in drug crime cases. These rules ensure that your rights under the Constitution are protected. If the police violate Fourth Amendment search and seizure rights or Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, the court will suppress the drugs or statements as being unlawfully obtained. Without this evidence, the prosecution may not be able to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. A well-versed drug-defense attorney will examine every Constitutional angle to reveal as to whether there was probable cause for the search in question, whether a search warrant was obtained legally, or whether consent to search was coerced.

Carroll Hearing: In Pennsylvania, defendants facing mandatory minimum drug distribution penalties can bring a Carroll Motion, named after a 1994 Pennsylvania case Commonwealth v. Carroll. During a Carroll hearing, the sentencing judge receives evidence from the defendant and the prosecution to determine the weight of the drugs possessed and to determine whether the drugs were intended for distribution or personal use. Fairlie & Lippy has the knowledge and experience in drug-related cases to make compelling arguments where at least a portion of the seized weight was possessed for personal use and not for distribution, potentially dropping the weight involved below the limit at which a mandatory minimum sentence would be imposed. It is critical to have a well-versed drug-defense attorney in your corner, as a successful Carroll Hearing could save you years in prison.

These are just a sampling of the defenses available. To determine what defenses might work in your case you should contact one of our lawyers for a free, in-depth consultation addressing the facts, circumstances and law applicable to your case.

Alternative Options

Drug Court: Many drug offenses are committed by people who struggle with addiction. As a result, a drug addiction treatment option is a relatively new alternative available in Montgomery County, Bucks County, as well as other counties throughout Pennsylvania. In these cases, it may be possible to work out an agreement that allows for time in treatment instead of jail. Successful completion of drug court programs can result in a more lenient sentence as well provides a first step towards a brighter future.

“Section 17” Probation: Refers to paragraph 17 of The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act in Pennsylvania. Under Section 17 Probation, individuals charged in Pennsylvania with possession of drugs and no prior record may be eligible for a probationary program. After successful completion of the program, charges are legally dismissed and the individual can petition the court to have his or her criminal record expunged. Section 17 is similar to the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program and in fact replaces the ARD program for minor drug cases in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

State Intermediate Punishment (SIP) Program: This program is being more heavily used in 2013 than it was in earlier years. It is great for people who are charged with serious drug-related offenses that could be facing lengthy state prison sentences. A complete description of the program is available here: Pennsylvania SIP Program

Call Today

At Fairlie & Lippy we will examine your drug charges from every angle, protecting your Constitutional rights and securing the best possible outcome. Whether you plan to fight the charges or plea guilty, a Pennsylvania Drug Lawyer from Fairlie & Lippy will focus on reducing any penalties you may face while increasing your opportunities to move ahead toward a brighter future. Call 215-997-1000 for a free no-obligation consultation so we can put our 45 years of experience in handling drug crimes to work for you.