The collateral consequences of a misdemeanor drug conviction are unforeseen, but additional and substantial legal penalties, that attach to a conviction. These unforeseen consequences are in addition to the statutory penalties that can include a fine, jail, mandatory driver’s license suspension, conditions of probation, or a combination thereof. The consequences are often hidden during the criminal process because they are in addition to the penalties imposed by the sentencing court. These hidden penalties can include ineligibility for public benefits, public housing, student loans, and various forms of employment.
But the collateral consequences can sometimes be extremely harsh. For example, the statutory penalty for a minor-misdemeanor possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana is payment of a maximum fine of $150.00, plus court costs, and the mandatory driver’s license suspension for “not less than six months or more than five years.” There is no potential jail time for the conviction, and it does not even constitute a “criminal record” for later background checks that may be involved in licensing. Given that there is no potential jail time, and the fine can be minimal, many people are tempted to plead guilty to the offense, even though there are other options available to avoid the conviction.
However, that decision to enter a guilty plea can later prove to be a horrible mistake. For example, an often overlooked consequence of a minor-misdemeanor marijuana conviction is legal disability from the possession or ownership of a firearm. Ohio Revised Code Section 2923.13(A)(3), prohibits any person who has been convicted of the illegal possession of “any drug of abuse” from acquiring, having, carrying, or using any firearm. Recent Ohio court of appeals decisions have made it crystal clear that a prior minor misdemeanor drug conviction does in fact render a person ineligible to possess a firearm, and criminally responsible for the possession of one.
In Ohio v. Robinson, 187 Ohio App.3d 253, 2010-Ohio-543, 931 N.E.2d 1110 ¶ 23, the Hamilton County Court of Appeals ruled that “a conviction for a minor-misdemeanor violation of R.C. 2925.11 [possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana] creates a disability prohibiting the possession of a firearm,” even though the minor-misdemeanor conviction does not even constitute a “criminal record” for the purpose of background checks conducted for licensing. A violation of this statute is a third-degree felony, subjecting the offender to a potential prison sentence of between 1 and 5 years. In Robinson, the trial court imposed, and the court of appeals upheld, a 1-year prison sentence for the mere possession of a firearm after being convicted of a minor-misdemeanor drug conviction.
Another type of misdemeanor drug conviction that can have serious collateral consequences is a first-degree misdemeanor conviction for possession of drug paraphernalia. This charge typically occurs when a person is involved in a minor traffic stop, the officer looks or pokes around the car, and observes a small amount of marijuana, and what he believes to be drug paraphernalia such as rolling papers, a pipe, roach clip, baggie, or small scale. That person will then typically be cited for the traffic violation; charged with minor-misdemeanor marijuana possession; and charged with first-degree misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.
The potential statutory penalty for the drug paraphernalia charge is a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail, $1,000.00 fine plus court costs, and/or probation, or a combination thereof. The conviction also carries a mandatory driver’s license suspension for “not less than six months or more than five years.” The person will typically arrive in court and receive a proposed plea to the charge with substantially less than the maximum penalties, so the person will be tempted to plead guilty simply in order to resolve the matter quickly.
This can be a serious mistake. In addition to fine, court costs, possible probation, and the mandatory driver’s license suspension, the conviction can be a difficult barrier to employment. For those attending or hoping to attend college, it can result in the denial of federal education grants, loans, and work-study eligibility. And, if the person is not a United States citizen, the conviction can constitute a deportable offense.
If you are charged with a misdemeanor drug conviction in Columbus or central Ohio, then contact one of our Columbus Criminal Defense Lawyers by calling 614 454 5010, or fill out our website contact form to arrange a free initial consultation.