The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation estimates that some type of drug use is a factor in as much as 80% of crimes in Tennessee. Drug charges can have serious consequences, and navigating the legal system can be confusing. While some drug offenses are misdemeanors, others may fall into felony territory.
Knowing when this transition happens is important for anyone facing drug charges.
Difference between felonies and misdemeanors
In Tennessee, the distinction between a felony and a misdemeanor often rests on the type of drug, the amount involved and the individual’s criminal history. Misdemeanors generally involve smaller quantities of less serious drugs. Penalties can range from fines and community service to short jail sentences. However, when the severity of the offense increases, so does the potential punishment.
Triggering felony charges
Several factors can push a drug charge into felony territory:
- Drug type: Schedule I and II drugs, considered highly addictive and dangerous, carry harsher penalties compared to Schedule III, IV and V drugs. Possession of certain Schedule I or II drugs, even in small amounts, can be a felony.
- Quantity: The amount of the drug plays a significant role. Possessing larger quantities of any controlled substance, regardless of the schedule, can elevate the charge to a felony.
- Prior offenses: Previous drug convictions can significantly increase the severity of current charges. A second or subsequent offense for simple possession of a Schedule VI drug, for example, can become a felony.
Engaging in the manufacture, delivery or sale of any controlled substance, regardless of the type or quantity of the drug, can also upgrade the charges to a felony.
Understanding the consequences
Felony drug charges in Tennessee carry heavy penalties, including lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines. For example, a Class E felony carries a one to six year prison sentence and a fine of up to $5,000.
The charges can also have lasting consequences for employment, housing and even voting rights. Many employers and landlords conduct background checks and may be hesitant to want to interact with a felon.
Navigating drug charges, especially potential felonies, requires accurate information and knowledge of the legal system and when charges can escalate, so individuals know how to properly proceed when facing charges.