Uh oh. You’ve been pulled over and the officer searched your car. In his search, he found a small baggie of marijuana in your glove compartment.
Don’t panic. Indiana has some of the strictest marijuana laws in the nation, but the cops finding it in your car does not automatically mean you’re heading to jail. Be proactive and contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as you can after your interaction with police, because the sooner you start working on your legal defense strategy, the better position you’ll be in to fight any charge you find yourself facing.
Can Police Search my Car Without a Warrant?
In certain circumstances, yes. Although your car is your personal property, law enforcement has the right to search it if:
- They have a search warrant
- You’ve given consent to a search
- They have probable cause to believe you’re carrying evidence of a crime in the car
- They reasonably believe the search is necessary to protect themselves during the stop
Let’s focus on the third bullet point, probable cause to believe you’ve got evidence of a crime in your car. You might face a search justified this way if an officer claims she smells marijuana coming from your car while you are pulled over.
This doesn’t mean a search conducted on these grounds is a legally justified search, though. An officer might claim she had probable cause to believe you were carrying marijuana, but depending on the facts regarding your case, your defense strategy might involve demonstrating that you were profiled or that you had been unlawfully pulled over.
In any case where the officer did not lawfully stop you or search your car, your rights were violated. Demonstrating that your rights were violated can mean the court has to drop your case. After examining your case in detail, your lawyer can determine whether this is a possible defense strategy for you.
Marijuana Possession Charges in Indiana
In Indiana, any possession of marijuana in any form, outside our state’s narrow medicinal CBD products program, is a criminal offense. How you’re charged for marijuana possession depends on whether you have prior drug convictions on your record and the amount of marijuana you had at the time of your arrest.
If you have no prior drug convictions, the possession of any amount of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor. If you’re convicted, you’re facing up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
If you’re found with less than 30 grams of marijuana or less than five grams of hashish and you have at least one drug conviction on your record, you’re facing a Class A misdemeanor. The penalties for this charge are a fine of up to $5,000 and up to one year in jail.
If you’re found with more than 30 grams of marijuana or more than five grams of hashish and you have a prior drug conviction, you will face a level 6 felony charge. The penalties for this conviction are a prison term of six months to two and a half years and a fine of up to $10,000.
You can also face a criminal charge for the possession of drug paraphernalia. This can be anything law enforcement reasonably believes is related to the cultivation, consumption or distribution of marijuana, like a glass pipe or an herb grinder. Possession of marijuana paraphernalia is a Class C misdemeanor if it’s your first time being charged with this offense. If you have one or more possession of drug paraphernalia charges on your record, it’s a Class A misdemeanor.
Option 1: Plead Guilty
Your first option is to plead guilty to the charge you’re facing. You admit your guilt, you’re convicted of a drug-related crime, you’re sentenced and once you’ve completed the sentence, you live your life with a drug conviction on your record.
Option 2: Fight the Charge
When you choose to fight your charge, you choose to not lock yourself into a conviction and the penalties that go with it. You choose the opportunity to show the court why you’re not guilty of your charge. Depending on your circumstances, your case could end with you being found not guilty or you accepting a plea bargain, which means you plead guilty to a lesser charge in exchange for your original charge being dropped.
Plea bargains are common in criminal cases; they save time and money for all parties involved. They’re negotiated between the prosecutor and the defendant. Your lawyer will advise you on whether to accept a plea bargain or to keep fighting your charge – accepting a plea means admitting guilt, being convicted and facing the penalties associated with the lesser charge, which can include fines and jail time. But the benefit for you is avoiding the penalties associated with your original charge, which are often steeper fines and more time in jail if you’re found guilty.
Your lawyer will advise you based on the circumstances at play in your case. There might not be a ton of evidence to support the charge, or there could be a lot of evidence against you.
You might also be eligible for a conditional discharge. In short, a conditional discharge is a legal judgment that you did commit a criminal offense, but you are not actually convicted of that offense.
Conditional Discharges Explained
In Indiana, it’s possible for an individual facing a marijuana charge to be granted a conditional discharge. Here’s how a conditional discharge works:
- A judgment that you committed a minor crime is entered into the court record, but you are not convicted of that crime
- You are required to meet certain requirements set by the court
- Upon completing these requirements, the judgment is removed from your record
Typical requirements for defendants with conditional discharges are community service, probation, counseling and the completion of a drug and alcohol education course.
Conditional discharges are often granted to first-time, low-level drug offenders. If you have a clean criminal record and you were only found to have a small amount of marijuana in your car, you may be offered a conditional discharge.
Call an Experienced Indiana Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
If you’re facing a marijuana charge, don’t assume anything. Don’t assume you have to plead guilty, don’t assume you’re heading to trial, don’t assume a conviction is inevitable. Talk to an experienced Indiana criminal defense attorney about your specific situation to learn more about your rights and legal options. To get started, contact Blankenship Law, LLC today to set up your legal consultation in one of our two Indiana offices.