New York Penal Law 220.03 – Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree & Your Criminal Defense: Does Quantity of the Drug Matter?

Whether you are issued a Desk Appearance Ticket (DAT) or you have been arrested in Manhattan, Brooklyn or anywhere else in New York, if you possess a controlled substance you may be charged with New York Penal Law section 220.03. This offense, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th Degree, is an “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and applies to such drugs as cocaine, crack-cocaine, heroin, extacy, oxycodone, etc. Make no mistake. If convicted of NY PL 220.03, you will have a criminal record that will not just go away. Even a plea to a Disorderly Conduct (NY PL 240.20 – a common offer in misdemeanor drug cases) can have real life ramifications years down the road.

Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, NY PL 220.03, is defined as follows:

A person is guilty of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree when he knowingly and unlawfully possesses a controlled substance.

Although the above definition is very basic, two things should be clear. First, it is important to note that this charge does not apply to marijuana related offenses. Second, there is no mention of a particular quantity or amount of the controlled substance that is needed to establish a violation of NY PL 220.03. The reason why the statute leaves out any threshold amount is because quantity does not have any relevance on this particular charge as long as there is enough to establish the actual presence of the drug in question.

The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, has found that an unusable amount of cocaine residue sufficiently establishes this crime. People v. Mizell, 72 N.Y.2d 651 (1988). In fact, the Court of Appeals, referencing earlier and lower court decisions, stated that “[s]o long as the quantity is sufficient to permit proper identification as a controlled substance, amount is immaterial.” To be clear…if the prosecution can test and find the presence of the controlled substance it is irrelevant that it was “merely” residue that you could no longer use or sell.

Although the amount is immaterial as to the charge of NY PL 220.03, if the prosecution can establish that the weight of the controlled substance was 500 mg, an eighth of an ounce or even greater, felony charges may be brought. Moreover, if the People can establish you had the intent to sell the controlled substance a felony offense may be charged as well. Obviously, these charges have much more significant ramifications such as terms of incarceration in state prison.

For further information on drug crimes and criminal defense, please review our earlier articles relating to constructive possession (when possession of drugs is not physical) and whether prosecutors need to provide a laboratory analysis at your arraignment for drug charges.

Founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, Saland Law PC is a criminal defense firm representing clients throughout the New York City region.

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