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First Degree Sale of a Controlled Substance Laws and Penalties in Minnesota

Minnesota law divides drug offenses into five progressively more serious crimes. The degree charged hinges on the number of illegal narcotics seized and whether the prosecution has evidence of possession, intent to sell, and the manufacture of illegal drugs. Usually, the first-degree offense pertains to individuals heavily involved in the drug trade for profit.

A first-degree drug offense conviction in Minnesota can land you in prison for up to 30 years, and courts can impose fines of up to $1 million. Many convicted of first-degree drug offenses spend the better part of their remaining lives incarcerated in maximum security facilities like Stillwater.

Don’t let living for years in a maximum security prison be your fate. Many innocent people face first-degree drug charges. Thankfully, in our country, the state must prove first-degree drug crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Law enforcement tends to insist all of their cases are strong even when they have fatal flaws in evidence or logic.

Gerald Miller is an expert in analyzing first-degree drug cases and finding the weaknesses in the state’s evidence and arguments, resulting in dismissed cases, acquittals, and reduced charges and sentences.

What Are First-Degree Drug Offenses in Minnesota

Minnesota drug laws are manifold and complex. For defendants, this presents a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the prosecution’s job of proving first-degree drug offenses is more difficult. Also, there are an array of lower offenses available in plea bargaining. As a result, a talented lawyer can use the complexities of the law to help clients win in court or bargain for lower sentences.

However, when the state has a strong case, it can use Minnesota’s complex drug laws to justify charging even relatively small offenders with first-degree drug offenses, setting the stage for a devastating conviction and giving it leverage in plea negotiations. A talented criminal defense lawyer can fight back and convince the prosecution or court to reduce the charges or establish reasonable doubt at trial.

Prosecutors can charge first-degree drug offenses under sales, possession, or manufacturing statutes. While all first-degree drug offenses can land you in jail for decades, the courts tend to come down harder on those who sell or manufacture drugs. For instance, a person convicted of manufacturing any quantity of methamphetamine can face up to 30 years of hard time.

First Degree Drug Sales in Minnesota

Pursuant to Minnesota law, selling a controlled substance need not involve money changing hands, though most cases involve cash-for-drug deals. However, you can be convicted of drug peddling if you give away, barter, exchange, deliver, distribute, dispose of, manufacture, or possess drugs with the intent to sell.

Also, no drugs need to change hands for the courts to sustain a conviction. Offering or agreeing to perform any of the aforementioned acts constitutes drug sales.

To charge a defendant with a first-degree drug sales offense in Minnesota, the prosecution must have evidence of one of the following:

  • Within a 90-day period, one or more mixtures totaling 17 or more grams of cocaine or methamphetamine
  • Within a 90-day period, one or more mixtures totaling ten (10) or more grams of cocaine or methamphetamine with a firearm in your possession or the presence of two other aggravating factors, including selling in a school, park, or public housing zone, or in a drug treatment facility
  • Within a 90-day period, one or more mixtures totaling ten (10) or more grams of heroin
  • Within a 90-day period, one or more mixtures totaling 50 or more grams containing a narcotic other than heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine
  • One or more mixtures of 50 or more grams, or 200 or more packaged dosage units, of amphetamine, hallucinogen, or PCP
  • One or more mixtures of 50 or more kilograms containing marijuana or Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or 25 or more kilograms of marijuana or THC in a school, public housing, park zone, or in a drug treatment facility
  • If convicted of first-degree drug sales in Minnesota, you face up to 30 years in prison and/or up to a $1 million fine

First Degree Drug Possession in Minnesota

In some cases, drug possession charges stand up even if the state fails to prove actual possession. You need not have been in physical control of the drugs to face first-degree drug possession.

Instead, the prosecution can make the case based on proof that you possessed the illegal substances consciously and had actual knowledge that the substance is illegal, even if you are unaware of what the substance is.

For example, a group of teenagers goes to a beach one night to party. One of them brings methamphetamine, though not all partygoers partake of it. But they were all aware that illegal drugs were present, though some had no knowledge of what the drug was. In this scenario, the state could charge all partygoers with drug possession, provided they can prove they were aware of the presence of illegal drugs.

If you become aware of anyone in your group possessing illegal drugs, walk away immediately. By leaving at once, you give yourself the defense that you departed as soon as you knew drugs were present. You have no obligation to stop a crime, but you have a duty to dissociate yourself from illegal activity.

Unfortunately for innocent parties, some law enforcement officers and prosecutors still allege drug possession even though you never took them and walked away from the situation. They may claim you left for fear of the police arriving.

For this reason, it’s always better to avoid contact with anyone you know who uses or sells illegal drugs.

This also demonstrates the importance of remaining silent until you consult an attorney. The police may have a weak case for drug possession against you because you took none and had none on your person. However, if they can find evidence that you knew about the drugs, they may be able to make a case.

If you make the mistake of telling the police you knew about the drugs, you have given them evidence for a drug possession charge. A skilled criminal defense attorney will ensure you avoid making that mistake.

To face charges of first-degree drug possession in Minnesota, one of the following must apply within a 90-day period:

  • One or more mixtures weighing 50 or more grams of cocaine or methamphetamine
  • One or more mixtures totaling 25 or more grams of cocaine or methamphetamine, and you have a firearm in your possession
  • One or more mixtures containing a total weight of 25 or more grams of heroin
  • One or more mixtures totaling 500 or more grams of a narcotic other than heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine
  • One or more mixtures totaling 50 or more grams containing amphetamine, hallucinogen, or PCP or if the drug is packaged in dosage units of 500 or more dosage units
  • One or more mixtures totaling 100 or more kilograms of marijuana or THC, or 500 or more marijuana plants
  • Additionally, you could be found guilty of a Minnesota first-degree drug crime if you manufacture any amount of methamphetamine.
  • If convicted of first-degree possession of a controlled substance in Minnesota, you can be sentenced to as many as 30 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $1 million


First Degree Drug Crime Defenses in Minnesota

Without a defense, you find yourself at the mercy of the prosecution. They are free to demand the court impose the maximum penalty under Minnesota sentencing guidelines and may refuse to offer a plea deal that reduces the charges and keeps you out of jail or prison. By establishing a defense, you can benefit from a better plea bargain or win an acquittal.

Many defenses can apply in first-degree drug crime cases. The following are some of the most common and effective:

Illegally Obtained Evidence

The U.S. Constitution protects citizens from unlawful searches and seizures. However, law enforcement frequently disregards the constitution and conducts illegal searches where they find illegal drugs. A talented defense lawyer can convince the court to suppress illegally obtained evidence, which may destroy the state’s case.

For example, the law forbids the police from stopping and searching vehicles without probable cause.

The Drugs Belonged to Someone Else

Often, people find themselves charged with possessing drugs that were someone else’s. If the defense establishes the drugs may have belonged to another person, a judge or jury may find reasonable doubt exists.

For example, a high school student may surreptitiously place drugs in another student’s backpack to hide them from the authorities. The student whose backpack then contained the drugs is innocent.

You Had No Knowledge of the Drugs

Sometimes, people are unaware that someone in their social group or household possesses drugs. The court cannot convict you for something you knew nothing about.

You Did Not Know a Substance Was An Illegal Drug

While the state can win if it proves you knew of illegal drugs, it cannot prevail if you had no idea that a substance was unlawful. For example, someone in your group may tell you that the pills he takes are a legitimate prescription medication while it was actually ecstasy. In that case, you commit no crime.

The Drugs Were Planted

Unfortunately, people sometimes plant drugs on others. This may occur in an attempt to frame someone intentionally, or the planter may dump the drugs on another for fear of being searched. Law enforcement officers sometimes have placed illegal drugs on a suspect to justify false charges.

Facing charges of first-degree drug offenses in Minnesota is a scary prospect. A conviction can land you in prison for years or decades. However, you may have a strong defense that entitles you to acquittal or a reduction in the charge or sentence. Never assume that a first-degree drug offense charge will stand up in court. Many don’t.

Gerald Miller is an expert in fighting first-degree drug cases. He creates effective defenses that end prosecutions or win his clients attractive plea bargain options. If you are facing first-degree drug offense charges, contact Gerald MIller before you answer questions from law enforcement.

Related Content: What Happens When You Get Charged with First-Degree 

About the author

Kyle Dreger

Kyle Dreger is a skilled DUI/DWI and Criminal Defense lawyer at Gerald Miller P.A. Kyle has received his law degree from the University of St. Thomas School of Law. He is also a professionally trained basketball player.

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