As criminal defense attorneys in Mt Pleasant and Charleston, South Carolina, we’ve defended people who’ve been arrested for possession of cocaine, distribution of cocaine, and trafficking cocaine. In this article, we’ll explain South Carolina’s cocaine laws and the criminal penalties involved with cocaine.
Possession of Cocaine in South Carolina
Possession of cocaine is illegal in South Carolina. This is true for powder-form cocaine, or a “cocaine base,” generally referred to as “rock” or “crack.” Penalties for possession of powder vs. crack are the same, but when you get into distribution charges, crack carries higher penalties. Our statute defines a cocaine base as “an alkaloidal cocaine or freebase form of cocaine, which is the end product of a chemical alteration whereby the cocaine in salt form is converted to a form suitable for smoking.”
To be guilty of possessing a drug, a person must be found to have actual possession or constructive possession of the drug:
- Actual possession is when drugs are physically on a person such as in a pocket or perhaps in someone’s purse or backpack.
- Constructive possession means that a person has “dominion and control” over the cocaine or the property where the drugs are found. Constructive possession can be in your closet, the console of a vehicle, or other places where you have control over the place.
- Joint possession is when more than one person can be in actual or constructive possession of the same drug. For example, if drugs are found in a car, just because someone claims the drugs doesn’t mean everyone else in the car is off the hook. The police might charge more than one person with possessing the same substance. This is less common in possession cases but can still happen. It is more common in distribution cases or worse.
What are the Penalties for Simple Possession of Cocaine or Crack in South Carolina?
- 1st offense possession of cocaine or crack is a misdemeanor. If convicted, it carries up to 3 years in jail, or a $5,000 fine, or both. Also, the court can require that someone enter and complete a drug treatment program.
- 2nd offense of possession of cocaine or crack is a felony. If convicted, it carries up to 5 years in jail, or a $7,500 fine, or both.
- 3rd offense and greater of cocaine or crack is a felony. If convicted, it carries up to 10 years in jail, or a fine of $12,500, or both.
To be charged with 2nd or 3rd, it does not matter if you were previously convicted of a cocaine-related charge. Nearly any previous conviction of a drug crime (except for marijuana) can enhance a cocaine charge to a 2nd or greater offense. The previous conviction can be from any state or federal court to count. It doesn’t have to just be South Carolina. Convictions that occurred more than 10 years ago do not count. If you did time on the previous offense, the 10-year window starts to run from the date you were released from custody.
What is Distribution or Possession with Intent to Distribute (PWID) Cocaine in South Carolina?
Basically, it is what it sounds like. If you are selling or otherwise distributing the drug, your charge can be much worse than simple possession. Also, if you merely had the intent to sell or distribute the drug, then you can be charged with PWID. Generally, to be charged with distribution, the police need to have caught you actually selling. This is often done by using undercover cops or confidential informants. For PWID, there generally needs to be evidence that you intended on selling. Usually, this evidence comes from the drug being stored in multiple bags, or the possession of scales used for weighing, among other things. If you have more than one gram of cocaine, the law also says that merely possessing more than one gram of cocaine or crack is evidence that you had the intent to distribute. So, even a recreational user who is holding enough for the weekend could be charged with PWID, even if the user was only holding a personal stash. If you are a recreational user, be aware of this law if you ever plan on holding more than a gram at a time.
The penalties for distribution or possession with intent to distribute cocaine, in powder form, are as follows:
- 1st offense distribution or PWID of cocaine or crack is a felony. If convicted, it carries up to 15 years in jail, or a fine of up to $25,000, or both.
- 2nd offense distribution or PWID cocaine or crack is a felony. If convicted, it carries between 5 and 25 years in jail, or a fine up to $50,000, or both.
- 3rd offense and greater of distribution or PWID cocaine or crack is a felony. If convicted, it carries between 10 and 30 years in jail, or a fine of up to $50,000, or both.
A 1st or 2nd offense can ask to have the sentence suspended and probation granted instead of jail. If incarcerated on a 1st or 2nd offense, the person is eligible for parole, supervised furlough, community supervision, work release, work credits, education credits, and good conduct credits. Only in limited cases can a person convicted of 3rd offense or greater ask for the benefits listed in this paragraph.
If a person 18 years of age or older distributes crack to a person under 18, that person will be charged with a felony and if convicted, the person can be imprisoned up to 20 years or fined up to $30,000 or both.
What are the Penalties for the Manufacture of Cocaine or Cocaine Base in South Carolina?
The same as distribution and PWID of cocaine or crack.
What is Trafficking Cocaine or Cocaine base in South Carolina?
“Trafficking” means you have 10 grams or more. Usually, if you are caught with this amount, they will charge you with trafficking instead of PWID. The penalties are as follows:
- 10-28 grams, 1st offense – If convicted, it carries between 3 and 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine.
- 10-28 grams, 2nd offense – If convicted, it carries between 5 and 30 years in jail and a $50,000 fine.
- 10-28 grams, 3rd offense or greater – If convicted, it carries 25-30 years and a fine of $50,000.
- 28-100 grams, 1st offense – If convicted, it carries between 7 and 25 years and a $50,000 fine.
- 28-100 grams, 2nd offense – If convicted, it carries between 7 and 30 years and a $50,000 fine.
- 28-100 grams, 3rd or greater offense – If convicted, it carries between 25 and 30 years and a $50,000 fine.
- 100-200 grams, 1st offense or greater – If convicted, it carries 25 years and a $50,000 fine.
- 200-400 grams, 1st offense or greater – If convicted, it carries 25 years and a fine of $100,000.
- 400 grams or more, 1st offense or greater – If convicted, it carries 25-30 years and a $200,000 fine.
Enhancement to a 2nd or 3rd offense can come from crimes other than just cocaine trafficking charges. Also, no part of any sentence can be suspended so that probation can be granted. In other words, convictions for trafficking are guaranteed to carry jail time.
What is Possession of Drug Paraphernalia in South Carolina?
Drug paraphernalia is basically an instrument used in conjunction with the drug. Water pipes, cocaine spoons, and vials are some of the more commonly found types of cocaine or crack paraphernalia.
Conviction only subjects a person to a civil fine under our statutes, but we have still seen SLED put this charge on people’s arrest records. This can be difficult if not impossible to remove, so think twice before ever deciding to just pay the fine (which is essentially pleading guilty) to a paraphernalia charge.
What is Distribution of Cocaine or Crack in the Proximity of a School in South Carolina?
If a person distributes, sells, purchases, manufactures, or possesses with intent to distribute cocaine or a cocaine base in the proximity of a school, they will be charged with the underlying offense AND the separate proximity charge. If you are charged with the proximity charge also, it is a felony that carries up to 10 additional years or an additional $10,000 fine or both. The exception is if the violation only involves the purchase within the proximity of a school, in which case it is a misdemeanor that carries up to one additional year, or an additional $1,000 fine, or both.
To be in “proximity of a school,” you must be within a ½ mile radius of the grounds of an elementary, middle, or secondary school, a playground or park, a vocational or trade school, a technical educational center, or a college or university. There are varying rules on whether these must be public, or whether private schools count too.
Should I Turn in My Drug Dealer to Get My Charges Dismissed?
It is not uncommon that law enforcement may seek your cooperation in arresting others. Whether you should cooperate is a complicated question that depends on the facts of the case. First, law enforcement doesn’t just want information; they want arrests. That’s why they will actually want you to participate in one or more controlled buys wearing a wire. Second, oftentimes law enforcement doesn’t offer to dismiss the charges against you but only offers to put in a “good word” to the prosecutor assigned to your case. Third, law enforcement often won’t put anything in writing so there are no guarantees you even get the deal. Finally, if law enforcement insists that you testify in court, you may be putting yourself and your family in a potentially dangerous situation. We have handled these negotiations many times before and have seen what bad things can happen when people try to cut their own deal. Don’t make any deals until you talk to a lawyer!
What Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Do For Me?
We can’t speak for other lawyers, but we can do many things to help. We’ll consult with you at the beginning so you know where you stand and answer your questions throughout the case. We’ll obtain all of the evidence the prosecutor has against you or for you and will look for other evidence that might help you. We will review the lab reports and look for ways to attack them. We’ll look to see if you’re being “overcharged.” We are knowledgeable about the laws relating to crime and sentencing, and if we ever run into an issue that is unique (it happens), we will do the necessary research to tackle it. We will represent you at every stage of the proceeding including the preliminary hearing and trial, and we’ll zealously advocate to get you the best deal we can get under the circumstances. Also, there are many ways to negotiate these types of cases. The cleaner your record, the easier it can be, but there may be ways around a conviction.