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How Long Could I Go to Jail for Distributing Opiates?

The opiate crisis has led Maryland prosecutors to crack down on anyone suspected of distributing drugs such as Fentanyl. Federal and state laws classify Fentanyl and similar opiates as a Schedule II controlled substance. This means that under Maryland law, a person convicted of distributing or possessing opiates with intent to distribute faces a maximum prison term of 20 years for a first offense. Subsequent offenses can lead to mandatory minimum prison terms of 25 or 40 years. A court may also impose substantial criminal fines of up to $100,000 in certain cases.

Maryland Woman Receives 20 Years After Sharing Fentanyl With Overdose Victim

Now in most cases, a person will not receive the maximum penalty. Judges have the discretion to impose a sentence after considering a number of aggravating and mitigating factors. One thing to keep in mind here is that such factors can include past conduct that may have been criminal but not necessarily proven at trial.

A recent unpublished decision from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Redding v. State, provides an example of what we mean. The defendant in this case shared Fentanyl with another person, who overdosed and died as a result of taking the opiate. Prosecutors initially charged the defendant with three crimes — possession of Fentanyl, distribution of Fentanyl, and the involuntary manslaughter of the other person.

The defendant agreed to plead guilty to the charge of distribution of Fentanyl. In exchange, the prosecutors dismissed the possession and manslaughter charges. But in sentencing the defendant, the judge considered the victim’s death an “aggravating factor” in assessing the defendant’s actions. The court also considered the defendant’s long history of drug addiction and treatment as potential mitigating factors.

Ultimately, however, the judge decided to impose the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, although 10 of those were suspended, plus five years of supervised probation. The defendant appealed, arguing her sentence was illegal. The crux of her claim was that it was improper for the trial judge to consider the victim’s death given that she was never actually tried or convicted for involuntary manslaughter.

The Court of Special Appeals upheld the judge’s decision, however, explaining that a trial court has “virtually boundless discretion” to consider a defendant’s “reputation, prior offenses, health, habits, mental and moral propensities, and social background,” when determining a criminal sentence. In this case, this included the defendant’s drug addiction as a mitigating factor. But it also included the death of the man to whom she distributed Fentanyl. The state did not have to prove the defendant’s criminal responsibility for that death. The judge only needed to consider “reliable evidence of conduct which may be opprobrious although not criminal.”

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This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.