Drug Dealer or Drug User?

When it comes to drugs, any kind, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, ecstasy or pills, they have to start somewhere and end somewhere. This may seem obvious but what that could mean for a person who is arrested for a drug charge is the difference between being charged as a drug dealer or as a drug user. The difference is a fine line with enormous criminal consequences. When people imagine drug dealers they think of two categories of dealers. First is the guy on the street who makes hand to hand deals on the street corner for quick cash. The others are the Pablo Escobar or El Chapo’s of the world, drug kingpins who traffic and transport kilos or pounds of drugs. In my experience, the world of the drug dealer is not so black and white. Many “drug dealers” I represent are actually users who are selling drugs to support their own habits. In my eyes, these individuals should be considered as users who are ill, desperate and need help. Unfortunately, I am the minority in this view and prosecutors, police and judges do not see these people in the same the same, at least not initially.

If You’re Selling Drugs, You’re a Drug Dealer

In the eyes of the prosecutor, if you’re selling drugs, you’re a drug dealer, period. Here’s the situation….

A guy is addicted to heroin. He buys heroin from someone. One day the cops see the transaction and set up an undercover buy from the addict who thinks he’s making a couple of bucks to support his habit. Now this poor guy has gone from a drug user to a drug dealer. I forgot to mention that these buys are usually for less than $50.

For those of you who don’t know, heroin in Chicago is sold in small units meant for single use. As a result, if someone wants to use more than once, he or she must buy multiple packets or go back out on the street later to buy and face all the risks that buying heroin on the street comes with including violence, arrest and death. So, in order to avoid this, he buys enough heroin to last a couple of days, maybe 7-10 small packets. If he’s unlucky, he gets arrested and the police find 7-10 packets of heroin on him. Less than a gram or maybe a couple of grams at the most. The police will charge him as a drug dealer because he was in possession of multiple packets of heroin instead of one lump amount that looks more like personal use. The difference in the law is great. Under 720 ilcs 570 also known as the Illinois Controlled Substance Act, being charged with delivery or possession with intent to deliver raises the felony offense to one level higher than being in possession does. For example, 720 ilcs 570 states:

“Any person who violates this Section with regard to the following amount of controlled or counterfeit substances or controlled substance analogs,
notwithstanding any of the provisions of subsections (a), (b), (d), (e), (f), (g), or (h) to the contrary, is guilty of a Class 1 felony. The fine for violation
of this subsection shall not be more than $250,000.

(1) 1 gram or more but less than 15 grams of any substance containing heroin
(2) 1 gram or more but less than 15 grams of any substance containing cocaine”

So, 1 gram of heroin is a class 1 felony, punishable by 4-15 years in prison but if you are charged and convicted as a dealer, your felony class will be increased to a Class X felony and is now punishable by 6-30 years in prison.

The police did not find any significant amount of drugs, no money, no customer lists, ledgers, fancy cars or homes. Yet the court will treat this individual like he’s a drug kingpin to “send a message”.

So What Can Your Attorney Do for You?

An experienced criminal defense attorney will work to convince the prosecutor that his client should not be considered a drug dealer and was just in simple possession of the drugs. Take a look at the client’s criminal history. If he is an addict he likely will have previous arrests for possession, possibly some theft charges too. Providing the prosecutor with history of treatment or hospitalizations can be helpful too. If the prosecutor will not listen, an experienced criminal defense attorney can go straight to the judge and present the client as having an illness instead of as a person profiting off of selling drugs. Because the penalties are so different from drug users compared to drug dealers, it is crucial to convince the court that your client is a drug user and not a drug dealer. If the court sees him or her as a user, the judge will be more likely to recommend treatment and not jail or prison.

Purav Bhatt is a criminal defense attorney in Chicago, Illinois who specializes in drug offenses. If you have a criminal matter and you have questions, contact Chicago criminal defense attorney Purav Bhatt at 773-791-9682.