What is Seventh Degree Possession of a Controlled Substance?

What is Seventh Degree Possession of a Controlled Substance?

Reform of cannabis laws here in NYC have seen some criminal possession charges drop significantly – but low-level drug possession tickets and charges haven’t disappeared completely.

If you’re caught with a small or trace amount of a narcotic drug like heroin, crack, cocaine or MDMA, there’s a chance you’ll face a charge of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree.

Here, we’ll explain the law behind this kind of charge, some situations that might lead to criminal possession of a controlled substance charge, and possible sentences that can be handed down as a result.

When would a charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree apply?

A seventh-degree charge of possession of a controlled substance will apply if you are found to have a small amount of drugs on your person or property.

What’s considered a ‘small amount’ will vary depending on the drug you’re caught carrying. For example, an eighth of an ounce of heroin would likely lead to this kind of charge – but just 5mg of LSD, 50mg of PCP, or 25mg of ecstasy/MDMA would also lead to a seventh-degree charge.

This isn’t a full list of course; seventh-degree controlled substance offense charges have even been brought against people who have been stopped with a single Xanax or oxycodone pill without a prescription.

Exceptions to the law

Drug laws are changing here in New York – and lawmakers’ attitudes are changing too. Today, the state actively encourages users to seek treatment – so there are some exceptions that can be made for people facing this kind of possession charge.

  • If the controlled substance is residual (a very small amount) and is found on a syringe that’s come from a legal exchange programme.
  • If the narcotic is found when the person is in the course of seeking or receiving care for a life-threatening medical emergency (such as a drug or alcohol overdose).

Outside of these public health law exemptions, possession of any drug, no matter how small the amount, can otherwise lead to a charge.

What do these exceptions look like in real life?

The law can sound confusing and complicated – so it’s useful to understand what an exception to the law can look like in reality.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Say you’re at a house party. Alcohol is being consumed, and there is some recreational drug use taking place. If a neighbour calls the police due to a disturbance, then the police could legitimately charge the homeowner or those possessing narcotics with drug crimes. If the amounts in possession are very small – i.e. indicating personal use only – then those caught are likely to face seventh-degree possession charges.

However, if the emergency services are called because someone has passed out due to excess alcohol or drug consumption, then small possession charges will not be prosecuted. This is because emergency responders were answering a medical emergency rather than a disruption of the peace. 

Other possible defenses to seventh-degree drug criminal possession charges

Exemptions aren’t the only way that people avoid prosecution for seventh-degree controlled substance possession charges – there are other possible defenses.

Firstly, it is possible to be in lawful possession of a controlled substance. New York Public Health Law § 3381 states that if you are legally entitled to have a controlled substance in your possession, then you cannot be found guilty of criminal possession.

Other defenses will be considered by your lawyer based on your unique circumstances and the unique circumstances of the case. An experienced attorney may be able to get the charges reduced or dropped altogether.

Possible sentences for seventh-degree possession

If you are found guilty of seventh-degree possession, you could face:

  • Imprisonment
  • Probation
  • Monetary fine

In terms of imprisonment, the maximum jail time handed down for a Class A misdemeanor could be one year.. The actual sentence passed will depend on your previous criminal history and could be less if your record is clear of convictions.

Naturally, the judge will also consider the finer details of the crime and your background before deciding on a sentence that fits the crime.

For example, a sentence to probation could lead to a maximum of a three-year probation period.

A monetary fine could be charged on top of any prison and/or probation sentence – or could be made instead of a prison or probationary sentence.

What should you do if you’re facing this kind of drug charge?

Generally speaking, the police are going to appear to ‘go easy’ on you if you’re facing this kind of charge – but this doesn’t mean you should be tempted to enter into questioning without a lawyer present. Your arrest leaves you in a vulnerable position – and the police may try to take advantage of this.

This is where an experienced criminal defense attorney should step in. When you work with a New York drug possession lawyer and you’ve got a solid attorney/client relationship, you’re in a much stronger position. Your lawyer will make sure the law is working for you – rather than being used against you.

We have the experience you need if you’re facing a seventh-degree possession charge. We have successfully defended clients where a person’s unlawful possession of a narcotic substance may have otherwise led to serious consequences. Talk to us today about how we can support you.