Drug paraphernalia cases in Missouri can generally be classified into two distinct types. The first, and far more common, occurs when an individual is said to be in possession of drug paraphernalia, usually during a traffic stop or an arrest for another crime. The second type is when a business is accused of selling drug paraphernalia, often advertised as being intended for legal use. The two types have different charges, penalties and ways to be fought.
Unlawful Possession of Drug Paraphernalia
Drug paraphernalia is anything that is used or intended to be used to make, store or ingest a controlled substance in violation of the law. The Missouri statutes have a more detailed description here, but common examples are scales, testing equipment, syringes and pipes. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a class D misdemeanor unless you have a prior conviction related to controlled substances, in which case it is a class A misdemeanor. It is a class E felony if the paraphernalia is used or intended to be used to manufacture or test methamphetamines.
Manufacture and Delivery of Drug Paraphernalia
The vast majority of drug paraphernalia charges are for possession, but Missouri law does provide for separate charges for making or selling drug paraphernalia. Most of these cases involve commercial establishments that sell items like pipes, bongs, roach clips, papers, etc. that purport to be for the consumption of tobacco or other legal substances. The penalty for manufacture or delivery of drug paraphernalia is a class A misdemeanor unless it is done for a commercial purpose, in which case it is a class E felony.
How to Get Drug Paraphernalia Charges Dropped
Possession of drug paraphernalia charges can be fought using some of the same techniques used to fight drug possession cases. An experienced defense attorney can examine the actions of law enforcement to determine if they made any mistakes in their search and will also know how to contest issues regarding actual or constructive possession as discussed here.
In addition to those issues, drug paraphernalia possession charges can be disputed based on the fact that almost any item that can be charged as paraphernalia also has legitimate uses. The Missouri statutes address this at 195.010(18) wherein they provide a list of elements intended to help identify if something is drug paraphernalia. Some of those relevant to possession cases include:
- Statements about the object concerning its use
- Prior controlled substance convictions of the owner
- The proximity of the item to controlled substances
- Controlled substance residue on the object
- Expert testimony concerning the items' use
A good attorney will know how to dispute law enforcement's account of some of these elements and use an absence of any of them to bolster a defense. Most paraphernalia possession cases are resolved at the negotiation level. It is absolutely necessary to hire an attorney with the ability to talk to prosecutors in a professional and competent manner. Possession charges are not often “dropped” completely, but they can be amended to a much lesser charge like littering that will keep a controlled substances conviction off your record.
Unlawful manufacture or delivery of drug paraphernalia charges are much harder to defend against. The courts have historically given very wide latitude to law enforcement in their efforts to prosecute retailers who attempt to skirt the law. In one case from the 1980's that appeared to be the standard for a long time, State v. Munson 714 S.W. 2d, a store owner was found guilty despite the presence of signs indicating that the items were not for illegal use. Thankfully these prosecutions are rare, and the courts may be trending towards leniency as decriminalization gains momentum.
The best way to deal with a drug paraphernalia charge in Missouri is to hire an experienced lawyer to keep it off of your record. The punishment range for a simple possession charge shows why this is true: a first time offense is a class D misdemeanor (a small fine) and all subsequent offenses are class A (up to a year in jail). The value of a clean record cannot be overstated! That is why criminal defense attorney Ruth Beerup's motto is Protecting Your Future. She takes the responsibility of fighting for your ability to live your life free of the negative effects of a criminal record seriously. Give her a call today to get started.