Where an Alabama drug case is heard depends on the type of case that it is. Misdemeanor drug possession cases like marijuana can be heard in either municipal court or in a district court, while felony possession cases typically start out in the district court, which is the lowest level of court for what they call a preliminary hearing.
Preliminary hearings are an important step in the process as it is the first opportunity that the accused citizen has to confront the witnesses against them, make that police officer get on the witness stand, get reports, and get information to help prepare a defense. Due to these factors, it is imperative that those charged have an Alabama drug attorney by this stage.Elements of a Drug Offense
Elements to prove a drug charge will depend on the type of charge it is. There are different classifications, such as possession, distribution, and trafficking all of which have unique factors that need to be proven. In a trafficking case, for example, the quantity that is involved is a major factor in whether someone is found guilty or not. Distribution, on the other hand, is when a person either sells, gives away, or furnishes a controlled substance to another person. In that instance, then they have to have someone who will be able to come in and identify the accused as being the seller of the particular type of drug that is involved.
In possession cases, there are further elements to prove, by discovering where they found the drugs, what they found, if there were other people present, or if there were multiple people that could have possessed those particular drugs.Evidence
A lot of times, people do not always have drugs in their pocket or their person. They are usually either in a car, in a place that is hidden, or they are in a house hidden somewhere. They have to prove that the person knew about those particular drugs that were found. There is a lot of circumstantial considerations there, such as where was it found, could a person smell it, and when did the police claim it arrived at that particular location.Contested Elements in Trial
The admissibility is a big element contested in trial, called the chain of custody. Prosecutors have to prove that the drugs that were found were the drugs transported to the state lab, what happen to them once they got to lab, if the testing mechanism was properly done, and if the forensic scientist did it the way they were supposed to do it. All the way from the time the drugs get introduced as evidence during the trial, they have to show that chain of custody. They have to show the knowledge that person has, which is often contested.Case Process
Cases will start out in the district court, then go to the grand jury, and they get assigned to a circuit court for a jury trial. The length of a case depends on how persuasive their lawyer is and how thorough the jury selection is. Additionally, some courts have a large backlog of cases and it can take months and months for a case to get resolved.
On the other hand, there are some courts that are fairly current and it may take up to three or four months for a case to be presented to a grand jury and it can get reported fairly quickly and usually in less than a year as in some courts, a person will go from an arrest to disposition. In some courts, it can take two to four years, depending on where a person is.Sentencing
There is a complicated sentencing scheme in Alabama. There are statutory laws and sentencing guidelines, as well as recommended sentences. Prosecutors will investigate the person’s history, as well as the nature of the drug, the amount of the drug, and what the person has done since they have been arrested.
There is a lot that goes into giving out a sentence, so typically when a person is found guilty or they plead guilty, the court will order a plea sentence investigation report be done by the state probation office. An accused citizen can provide the information to that person to be included in the report or they can draw their own report. They can show that they had some mitigating circumstances. They can get people to come and testify for them and they can show that they have gone into treatment.Constitutional Issues
Almost always in any type of automobile search when investigating a drug case, many considerations will be taken such as if that person had the right to have their vehicle stopped and if the police had the legal authority to conduct a traffic stop. Individuals have a right to freedom of movement, and there are limited circumstances that allow law enforcement to seize someone. Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, only reasonable searches and seizures are allowed. Determining whether it was reasonable or unreasonable will be a case-driven undertaking and it is the for an experienced lawyer to undertake, as they know when a stop is reasonable and free of constitutional issues.