A convicted felon faces seven years in federal prison after pleading guilty to possession of a firearm as well as marijuana possession with intent to distribute. James Eric Hampton, Jr., of Columbia, admitted to selling marijuana when the University of South Carolina Police seized one ounce of marijuana packed in baggies from his car in 2019, along with cash and a digital scale. He also admitted to buying a stolen handgun off the street.
Hampton was first arrested for state charges and then indicted at the federal level. After leaving the state in violation of the terms of his release on federal bond, Hampton received enhanced charges for obstruction of justice. There is no parole for federal prison sentencing.
Penalties for marijuana possession and intent to distribute
The penalties for conviction of drug charges are severe in all states, and some Schedule I drugs such as marijuana carry stiff sentences for possession or trafficking, depending on the type of drug and the amount found. What triggers federal charges is if the drugs crossed state lines, if the amount seized is above a certain quantity, and, in instances of prior drug convictions, if drug possession is related to unlawful firearms possession.
In South Carolina, some drug penalties related to marijuana are:
- For possession: a simple misdemeanor if under one ounce, including fines of up to $200 and 30 days in jail. If over one ounce, prima facie evidence of intent to sell.
- For possession with intent to distribute (PWID): first offense of over one ounce, felony with fines of up to $5,000 and five years in jail. Subsequent offenses including sale to a minor, felony with fines of $10,000 to $20,000 and five to twenty years in jail.
Even if the individual possesses one ounce and it is in one bag without other paraphernalia, this is prima facie evidence of intent to sell. In addition, marijuana offenses are subject to enhanced penalties if there have been prior PWID convictions involving the same or different drugs.
Fighting drug charges and enhanced penalties
When an individual is facing drug charges that include enhanced penalties, it can feel like they are powerless to assert their rights and to tell their side of the story. When an individual is developing a solid defense strategy, they must know their rights under the law and how to aggressively counter accusations from the prosecution. Some of these defenses include challenging:
- if the crime lab analysis results were accurate
- whether someone planted the drugs
- if there was enough evidence that the drugs belonged to the accused or that they knew they were in possession
- if law enforcement violated the constitutional rights of the suspect against illegal search and seizure
- if law enforcement violated the suspect’s Miranda Rights
The prosecution’s burden of proof means showing that the defendant knew that the drug in question was a controlled substance, that they were aware they were in possession, and that they had the intent to distribute it.