Juvenile courts avoid meting out harsh punishments for juvenile drug offenders. The impetus behind these lenient sentences is reform and rehabilitation. Ostensibly, this is the same modus operandi for criminal courts.
But despite Washington and Colorado legalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana; despite California’s Proposition 48 that reduces many drug-related felonies to misdemeanors and commutes many prison terms to time served; and despite polls indicating many Americans feel existing drug laws are too severe — an individual convicted of a state or federal drug crime still faces considerable time behind bars.
#1 Possession. Penalties for drug possession vary by state. Nevada imposes fines up to $5,000 or up to one year in jail – or both – for a first or second offense. These penalties are for Schedule I, II, III or IV controlled substances. Rhode Island is less forgiving. A conviction for possession of Schedule I and II controlled substances – heroin, cocaine, PCP, LSD for example – can carry a fine of up to $500,000; 50 years in prison or both.
A person between 16 and 18 who commits a felony or gross misdemeanor may be tried as an adult at the District Court’s discretion. All other juvenile crimes are considered civil cases, regardless of the nature of the crime. The Rhode Island Family Court Juvenile Intake Department screens all juveniles arrested for alcohol or drug-related offenses. The Department routinely flags juvenile cases for drug court, provided the youth meets the court criteria.
#2 Dealing. In 2013, Alabama revised its sentencing guidelines for nonviolent crimes, including drug dealing. The move was designed to free up prison beds for more violent offenders. Prosecutors will rely on a worksheet to determine whether an offender goes to jail. Juveniles convicted of dealing in Alabama appear in juvenile court for sentencing – unless the district attorney exercises a discretionary waiver.
If the juvenile court finds circumstances to warrant, a juvenile can be transferred to regular court for sentencing. The waiver is reserved for more serious offenses including trafficking.
#3 Trafficking. On its website, the Drug Enforcement Agency lists the federal penalties for trafficking Schedule I through V controlled substances. A first-time offense – with no bodily injury –for an adult trafficking these drugs: cocaine, fentanyl, heroin, meth, PCP and LSD to name a few, includes a minimum five-year prison sentence and fines of up to five million dollars. In 1994, juveniles convicted for trafficking under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act spent, on average, 21 months in a juvenile detention facility.
#4 Manufacturing. According to the South Carolina Judicial Department, the adult penalty for a first offense for possessing, manufacturing or trafficking meth or cocaine – one or more grams – is a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine not to exceed $25,000. Information is scant regarding penalties for juveniles convicted of manufacturing drugs. According to South Carolina defense attorney Susan E. Williams, it is up to the discretion of the district attorney whether a juvenile charged with manufacturing is tried in juvenile or regular court. But such cases are few and far between in the Palmetto State. “I’ve never defended a juvenile charged with trafficking or manufacturing,” says Williams.
Whether a teen is in serious trouble or minor trouble with the law, substance abuse is always a serious issue. For parents with teens in need of help, we can provide. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides behavioral health treatment for teens between the ages of 12 and 17. We offer help for mental health disorders, substance abuse and dual diagnosis conditions. If your teen is struggling with one or more of these problems, don’t hesitate to contact us through our 24/7 helpline for assistance.
Written by Darren Fraser, Sovereign Health Group writer