Simple Possession in SC: 7 Most Common Questions Answered Here
The drug charge known as “simple possession” can in reality be anything but simple. Extenuating circumstances can change this seemingly straightforward charge into something far more complicated, and if you’re convicted, penalties can vary greatly based on prior convictions.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
- What simple possession is in the eyes of the SC legal code
- What the penalties are for a first offense and repeat offenses
- How to navigate the potentially complex legal implications of a simple possession charge
Below are your seven most pressing questions about simple possession, including what it is, how it can change, and what you should do when facing a charge for this or any other crime involving drugs in SC.
1. What Is “Simple Possession”?
Need a brief explanation of what a law enforcement officer or justice system official means by “simple possession”?
Simple possession can be charged if you’re found to be in control of or in physical possession of one or more controlled substances. Where the law gets complicated is on the amount that you have in your possession. Different drugs have different amounts that can bump the applicable charge in your case up a level in severity. With simple possession the next bump up is possession with intent to distribute (PWID).
Simple possession can also be moved up to a PWID charge based on other factors that may indicate an intent to sell the drugs as opposed to personal use. A few examples are the way the drugs in your possession are stored or the presence of any paraphernalia on your person or in your home or vehicle as well.
2. How Much Is a Simple Possession Charge in SC?
For the first offense, simple possession carries either a fine, a jail sentence or both. The jail sentence could be up to 30 days and the charge carries a maximum of a $200 fine.
In simple possession cases, the first offense is charged as a misdemeanor, but any subsequent charge falls under felony status and comes with harsher penalties. It’s not a mistake you’ll want to make more than once, if at all.
It’s also important to mention that a conviction for simple possession will show up on your criminal record.
3. How Does the State of SC Define “Possession”?
It’s important to understand how you could be charged with possession, and you might be surprised to learn that you don’t actually have to be in physical possession of a controlled substance to pick up a possession charge. Let’s run through a few hypothetical situations:
Let’s say you’re stopped on the street by the cops, and you get a pat down. Officers find a small bag of marijuana in your pocket. It’s pretty clear in this case that you were in possession of the drugs, and that’s likely what you’ll be charged with. This is called “actual” possession.
Let’s say now that you’re stopped in your car. You get out, the police pat you down and find nothing, but one of their trained dogs starts to detect something in your car. The officers search it and find the same bag of marijuana in your passenger seat. Even if you say it’s not yours, you’ll likely still be charged with simple possession over the mere fact that it was in your property and able to be controlled by you, even if you didn’t have physical control over it at the time. This is called “constructive” possession and applies to your home, your property, safety deposit boxes, and other places.
In South Carolina, the courts are likely to recognize both cases of possession as being treated equally under the state code.
4. How Long Does Simple Possession Stay on Your Record?
If you’re found not guilty, the charge is dropped, or you have a conditional discharge, a charge of simple possession can be expunged from your record. If you are convicted, it will show up.
This is one of the reasons why it’s important to get a lawyer if charged with simple possession, even if you feel that you don’t have a leg to stand on in court. The proceedings in the short term may have an impact long into the future. We’ll get more into this a little later.
5. Can A Simple Possession Charge Be Expunged?
Expungement is what it’s called when, most commonly, you’re charged and convicted of a crime and then after a certain period of time, you apply for permission to have the charge wiped off your criminal record. This is one of the only exceptions to the answer to the previous question.
There are several situations in which a crime may be expunged in South Carolina, but the circumstance that applies most heavily to simple possession charges involves the following criteria:
- Your crime must be a first offense
- Your penalty must carry no more than 30 days in jail
- Your penalties may not exceed 500 dollars in fines
- After receiving this charge, you had a clear record for at least three years
In most cases, first offenders in simple possession cases will be allowed expungement, but ultimately it’s the decision of the court. Your attorney will help you gather the correct documents and pay the legal fees to proceed in the expungement application process.
6. What Is “Conditional Discharge” for Simple Possession?
In cases that involve the possession and use of controlled substances, it’s not uncommon to see offenders pursue a “conditional discharge” before sentencing, in which the defendant must complete a set of requirements in order to avoid adding a conviction to their criminal record, as long as they have a clear criminal history before the possession charge.
In South Carolina, conditional discharge tends to have a rehab element. For example, if you receive a conditional discharge, your conditions may include a court-mandated stay in an approved drug or alcohol treatment facility.
7. Should You Hire a Lawyer for Simple Possession?
Upon hearing the relative lenience that courts view on first offenses for simple possession in SC, you may be thinking “that’s not so bad, maybe I don’t need a lawyer after all.” No matter how guilty you may be, it’s never a good idea to enter a courtroom without an attorney to represent you.