Our law firm defends a number of drug cases involving the illegal possession and sale of the drug heroin. Heroin is an opioid drug which derives from morphine. You can trace morphine back to poppy seed plants and heroin is sometimes called “black tar” because of the darkish color of the substance. Users can inject, inhale (snort or sniff), or smoke the drug. When heroin enters the brain, the body converts it back into morphine which then binds the molecules in the body’s cells known as opiate receptors. Opiate receptors are located throughout the brain which controls things like our blood pressure, arousal, and respiration. A heroin overdose, for instance, can actually stop a person’s breathing and ultimately kill a person.
Heroin is highly addictive and if the user attempts to stop he or she may experience severe withdrawn symptoms which can begin sometimes within hours of last use. Withdraw symptoms can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, and vomiting. While all forms of heroin produce a “rush”, injecting the drug produces the highest form of rush. Intravenous heroin injections provide almost an instant high while smoking or snorting may take a little longer but usually not more than 15 minutes. The heroin “high” is a feeling of happiness or euphoria followed by a feeling that the things around you are moving slowly almost like you are in a dream. People sometimes take heroin over drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine because unlike those drugs heroin can decrease pain, anxiety, and depression. Like any drug, a person can develop a tolerance so the user must use even more heroin to achieve the same level of effect as prior use.
From a criminal defense standpoint heroin is a schedule I drug because it has a high potential for abuse and no medically acceptable use. Check out my article on Scheduled Controlled Substances. In addition to Heroin, schedule I drugs would include narcotics such as LSD and Cocaine. At the federal level, if a person is convicted of selling or trafficking heroin he or she faces a mandatory minimum of five (5) years in prison if the offense involves the sale of at least 10 grams and a second offense has a ten (10) year mandatory minimum sentence in federal prison.
While Pennsylvania no longer has mandatory minimum sentences for the sale or distribution of heroin, it is nevertheless a felony which could land a first time offender in state prison or, at the very least, an extended period of probation. Many District Attorneys, despite the lack of mandatory minimum sentences, still argue for prison terms which reflect those former penalties. Prior to the Supreme Court abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing in Pennsylvania, the first time heroin dealer faced a 2 year mandatory minimum sentence for any sale or distribution of 1-5 or more grams of heroin. Further, there was a 3 year mandatory minimum sentence in Pennsylvania for the sale of over 5-50 grams and a five (5) year mandatory minimum for any sale of Heroin over 50 grams.
A strong criminal defense still must focus on constructive vs. actual possession, reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and the difference between simple possession and possession with the intent to deliver (PWID). Remember that concepts like reasonable suspicion and probable cause are pre-trial issues which your criminal defense attorney must argue during motions to suppress evidence while concepts like constructive possession, actual possession, and the difference between PWID and simple possession (K/I) are trial issues which the prosecution must establish beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidentiary standard in a Motions to Suppress unlike a trial are “by the preponderance of the evidence”. While the prosecutions burden at a motion isn’t as high as the evidentiary standard at trial, a successful motion to suppress is still one of your criminal defense attorney’s strongest arguments in cases involving drugs, guns, and even DUI.