Minnesota’s current categorization of drug crimes into five different degrees was established by the legislature in 1989. Since then, the state’s sentencing guidelines have been modified at various points, sometimes making sentences harsher or applicable to smaller quantities of drugs, and sometimes becoming more lenient.
In Minnesota, first-degree drug crimes are the most serious and fifth-degree are the least serious. Nearly all are felonies, with the exception that a certain subset of the fifth-degree crime is only a gross misdemeanor, and certain marijuana offenses are considered misdemeanors or petty misdemeanors.
Factors such as sales versus possession, numerous types of drugs, and aggravating factors combine to make the drug statutes rather complex. The attorneys at Ringstrom Law have many years of experience working with these complexities and building defenses and strategies for our clients charged with drug crimes.
First-Degree Drug Crimes
First-degree illegal possession and sale of controlled substances is outlined in Minnesota Statute 152.01. This crime is punishable by up to 30 years in prison (increased to 40 if the defendant has a history of drug convictions), with a maximum fine of $1,000,000. For those with a previous drug conviction, the mandatory minimum sentence for a first-degree drug crime is four years in prison.
If you have been arrested, are just being questioned, or have been charged with a first-degree drug crime in Minnesota, you need to talk with a defense attorney who is well-versed in this type of case. Ringstrom Law has the experience to deal with these charges and is ready to speak with you about possible defense strategies. If police officers or government investigators are trying to question you about an alleged drug crime, we remind you how important it is to remain silent and not let yourself be drawn into giving a statement.
Drug possession can be either having drugs on one’s physical person (in a shirt pocket, for example) or having “constructive” possession (drugs stored in a location accessed and controlled by someone, like a bedroom or storage locker). A drug possession offense in the first degree can result from any of the following situations:
- Being found with a mixture that contains heroin and that has a weight of at least 25 grams
- Being found with a mixture that weighs at least 500 grams and contains amphetamine, hallucinogen, or phencyclidine, or the same substance divided into at least 500 dosage units
- Being found with a mixture that contains methamphetamine or cocaine and has a weight of at least 50 grams (or at least 25 grams if you also have a gun on your person)
- Being found with a mixture that weighs at least 500 grams and contains a narcotic drug besides methamphetamine, heroin, or cocaine (such as morphine or codeine)
- Being found with a mixture that contains marijuana and that has a total weight of at least 50 kilograms (which is more than 110 pounds of marijuana)
- Being found with at least 500 marijuana plants
Drug sales can also be charged as first-degree crimes. Minnesota’s definition of sales is significantly broader than just exchanging drugs for money. It includes bartering, offering or agreeing to sell or barter, possessing with the intent to sell or barter (sometimes alleged based on individual packaging), and even giving away drugs. Any of the following situations can lead to first-degree drug charges. Also, note that for all of the following, the sale can occur just once or be spread among multiple sales within 90 days.
- Selling a mixture with a weight of at least 17 grams (10 grams if you also have a gun in your possession) that contains methamphetamine or cocaine
- Selling a mixture with a weight of at least 50 grams that contains narcotics other than meth, heroin, or cocaine
- Selling a mixture with a weight of at least 25 kilograms that contains marijuana
- Selling a mixture containing heroin with a weight of at least 10 grams
- Selling a mixture that weighs at least 50 grams and contains amphetamine, hallucinogen, or phencyclidine, or the same substance divided into at least 200 dosage units
A first-degree drug offense is regarded as an “aggravated” offense if it involves a high enough quantity of drugs and either possession of a firearm or two aggravating factors. For the purposes of Minnesota’s drug statutes, there are 10 possible aggravating factors, such as
- Selling drugs to someone younger than 18
- Selling drugs to a vulnerable adult, as defined by statute
- The offender being near the top in a hierarchy of distribution
- The offender possessing supplies that indicate a much larger operation than the minimum amount needed for the offense level (for example, a warehouse equipped to package substantial amounts of drugs)
- Selling or possessing drugs to aid in gang activity
- The offender having a non-drug violent crime conviction within the past 10 years
Serious consequences attend an offense that has reached the aggravated level: the minimum sentence typically has to be the greater of 86 months or the presumptive guideline sentence.
Second-Degree Drug Crimes
A second-degree drug crime charge in Minnesota is still a very serious felony. If you are convicted, it could result in a prison sentence of up to 25 years and a fine of up to $500,000. There is a mandatory sentence of at least three years in prison for those with a previous drug conviction, with the maximum sentence increased to 40 years.
Minnesota Statute 152.022 describes second-degree drug crimes. The possession subdivision includes any of these situations:
- Being found with a mixture with a weight of at least 25 grams (or with at least 10 grams if you are also caught with a gun) of meth or cocaine
- Being found with a mixture weighing at least 50 grams that contains a narcotic that is not meth, heroin, or cocaine
- Being found with a mixture that contains marijuana and weighs at least 25 kilograms
- Being found with at least 100 marijuana plants
- Being found with a mixture that contains heroin and weighs at least six grams
- Being found with a mixture that weighs at least 50 grams and contains amphetamine, hallucinogen, or phencyclidine, or the same substance divided into at least 100 dosage units
Meanwhile, the sales subdivision includes any of these activities (note that for some of the following, the sale can occur just once or can be spread among multiple sales within 90 days):
- Selling a mixture that contains heroin and weighs at least three grams
- Selling a mixture that contains a narcotic drug other than heroin and weighs at least 10 grams
- Selling a mixture that weighs at least 10 grams and contains amphetamine, hallucinogen, or phencyclidine, or the same substance divided into at least 50 dosage units
- Selling a mixture with a weight of at least three grams of meth or cocaine, if you are also caught with a gun
- Selling a mixture that contains marijuana and weights at least 10 kilograms
- Selling a narcotic drug from Schedule I or II, in any quantity, to a person 17 years old or younger
- Working with or employing someone 17 years old or younger to sell a narcotic drug from Schedule I or II, in any quantity
- Selling the items below at a school, a park, a treatment center, or a zone designated for public housing
- A narcotic drug from Schedule I or II, in any quantity
- Any amount of MDA, LSD, or ecstasy
- A mixture containing any amount of meth
- A mixture containing marijuana and weighing at least five kilograms
Third-Degree Drug Crimes
Third-degree drug crimes in Minnesota, whether sale or possession, are still felonies with serious penalties, just of a lesser intensity than first or second-degree crimes. First-time offenders are not always subject to a presumptive executed sentence to prison with a third-degree charge, but prison remains a possibility. The maximum prison sentence is 20 years and the maximum fine is $250,000. This degree is outlined in Minnesota Statute 152.023.
Third-degree possession crimes include these situations:
- Being found with a mixture weighing at least 10 grams that contains a narcotic that is not heroin
- Being found with a mixture containing heroin and weighing at least three grams
- Being found with a mixture that contains a narcotic drug packaged in at least 50 dosage units
- Being found with a mixture that contains marijuana and weighs at least 10 kilograms
- Being found with a mixture that contains meth near a drug treatment center, public housing, a park, or a school
- Being found with a narcotic drug from Schedule I or II, in any quantity, or at least five dosage units of ecstasy, MDA, or LSD in a park, a school, a treatment center, or public housing
It is also a third-degree felony to sell a controlled substance in the following ways:
- Selling a mixture containing a narcotic drug
- Selling a mixture that contains a hallucinogen or PCP and is packaged in dosage units of at least 10
- Selling a Schedule I, II, or III drug (unless it’s a narcotic in schedule I or II, which is a second-degree sales crime) to someone younger than 18
- Working with or employing someone younger than 18 to sell a Schedule I, II, or III drug (unless it’s a narcotic in schedule I or II, which is a second-degree sales crime)
- Selling a mixture that contains marijuana and has a weight of at least five kilograms
Fourth-Degree Drug Crimes
Even at this second-lowest degree, a conviction will still be a felony and the punishment can include up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Although executed prison sentences are not common for first-time charges at this level, a felony conviction can still significantly affect your future through a jail sentence and collateral consequences.
Minnesota Statute 152.024, which outlines fourth-degree drug crimes, lists only two types of possession crimes, in contrast to the lengthier possession subdivisions described above.
- Being found with a mixture that contains a Schedule I, II, or III drug (apart from marijuana) and a demonstrable intention to sell that mixture. (The state would likely try to prove this with circumstantial evidence, such as the defendant frequenting a place where drugs are bought and sold. The state could also prove this with an admission, which is another reason a suspect should nearly always remain silent.)
- Being found with a mixture that contains a hallucinogen or PCP and is packaged in dosage units of at least 10
The sales subdivision describes four ways to be found guilty of fourth-degree controlled substance:
- Selling a mixture that contains Schedule I, II, or III controlled substances, except for marijuana
- Selling a mixture that contains a Schedule IV or V controlled substance to someone younger than 18
- Working with or employing someone younger than 18 to sell a Schedule IV or V drug
- Selling any amount of marijuana in a public housing area, near a school or park, or at drug treatment center, park (unless there was no payment and the amount was small)
This last way of “selling” drugs raises the question of how someone could sell something for no payment. As mentioned above, Minnesota’s drug statutes rely on a broad definition of the word “sell”; see Minn. Stat. 152.02 subdivision 15a. This definition was likely created in response to the common defense of just giving drugs away instead of selling them.
Fifth-Degree Drug Crimes
According to Minnesota Statute 152.025, a fifth-degree drug crime in Minnesota can be a felony or a gross misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for this degree is a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine. In order to be classified as a gross misdemeanor, the offense must fit these conditions:
- Possession of a mixture containing a Schedule I, II, II, or IV drug (except marijuana that weighs 42.5 grams or less)
- If not heroin, the drug weighs under 0.25 grams or is packaged as a single dosage unit
- If heroin, the drug weighs under 0.05 grams
- The offender must have no prior drug convictions, whether from Minnesota or elsewhere
Felony fifth-degree drug possession can be either
- Being found with any amount of a Schedule I, II, III, or IV controlled substance (except marijuana that weighs 42.5 grams or less)
- Being found with any amount of a controlled substance that was gained by misleading or fraudulent means (such as using a fake name or pretending to be pharmacist), or trying to get a controlled substance by such means
Felony fifth-degree drug sales can be either
- Selling more than 42.5 grams of marijuana
- Selling a smaller amount of marijuana for any kind of payment (this is in contrast to actually giving away a small amount of marijuana, which won’t trigger a sales charge; giving away a larger amount of marijuana or virtually any other controlled substance WILL result in a sale charge)
- Selling any amount of a Schedule IV drug
Avoiding a Conviction for a Drug Crime
Successful drug charge defense requires a host of skills: pretrial suppression litigation skills, controlled substance science skills, trial skills, and many others that only the best criminal defense lawyers cultivate in their totality. One of the most important skills is to be able to make a mitigation argument that will convince a judge to not send you to prison and instead give you probation. Probation typically involves completing a drug treatment program, performing community service, paying fines and fees to the court, and remaining a law-abiding citizen. If your charge is for fifth-degree controlled substance, the case could conclude without a conviction appearing on your criminal record.
Defense for Drug Crimes in Minnesota
The Ringstrom Law attorneys take a thoughtful but aggressive approach in defense of their clients arrested for drug crimes. These charges, while sometimes challenging, can be defended by various means. Here are some possible paths that can be pursued to help you fight a drug charge:
Police and other government agents are not allowed to seize your property unless they have probable cause that leads them to believe you have committed a crime. If they illegally search your property or person, any evidence they find as a result of the search cannot be used against you in court. Even if the government performs a search authorized by a search warrant, sometimes a flaw in procedure leads evidence to be excluded at trial. Examples of flaws are stretching the search beyond what is authorized and deliberately misleading the judge with the information included in the warrant application.
The Constitution prohibits unreliable and suggestive identification procedures. Your attorney at Ringstrom Law might be able to prevent the government from identifying you in court by showing that the identification procedures used by the police were faulty. For example, the police may have incorrectly conducted a line-up of suspects, or shown a set of pictures to a witness in a way that nudged the witness to choose your picture.
It is your constitutional right to be warned at the time of an arrest that you have the right to remain silent until represented by an attorney. This warning, known as the Miranda warning, must be given by the police before they seek to obtain a statement from you. If the Miranda is given improperly or not given at all, anything you say may be deemed inadmissible in court.
Your attorney at Ringstrom Law will thoroughly investigate how evidence against you was collected and seek to have it thrown out of the proceedings if government agents did not follow the law and violated your constitutional rights in any manner. In addition to illegal searches or seizures, improper witness identification methods, and the lack of Miranda warning, police and other agents have been known to be creative and resourceful but ultimately illegal in their evidence-gathering.
Other defense strategies are possible if these pretrial suppression attempts do not work in your case. Talk to your attorney at Ringstrom Law if you are questioned or have been arrested for a drug crime. It is vital to your future to receive legal representation right away to protect your rights and future.
Who to Contact for Drug Crime Defense Near Me?
Your future is at stake if you are arrested or are being questioned about a drug crime in Minnesota. Contact Ringstrom Law at 310-933-9439 immediately to protect yourself against these life-altering charges. We have the experience needed to get you through this difficult legal challenge and are ready to begin building your defense.