There is a saying that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.
That's why our Birmingham criminal defense lawyers want to make you aware of some recent changes to Alabama laws that have the potential to impact a wide range of people accused of a number of crimes.
In this first of our two-part blog series on the new legislation, we'll first be exploring the new drug legislation, which amends a portion of the statute pertaining to drug possession, as well as new restrictions on the sale of certain over-the-counter medications frequently used to make methamphetamine for illegal street sales.
The first part of this is the amendment of the Code of Alabama Section 13A-12-211. This legislation was passed by state lawmakers back in 1975, and essentially says that a person commits the crime of unlawful distribution of a controlled substance if he or she sells or provides or gives away or distributes or delivers any substance that is forbidden as spelled out in the federal codes classifying drugs as being a Schedule I through V. The only defense is if one is authorized by law to do so.
Examples of Schedule I drugs are heroin, LSD, peyote, marijuana and ecstasy. Schedule II drugs include morphine, opium, methadone, oxycodone and cocaine. Schedule III drugs include Vicodin, Tylenol with codeine, ketamine and anabolic steroids. Schedule IV drugs include Xanax, Valium, Ativan and Klonopine. Schedule V drugs include mostly certain types of cough medicines. The lower the schedule, the higher the penalty, as Schedule I drugs are considered to be the most dangerous.
The original 1975 version of the law states that unlawful distribution of a controlled substance is a Class B felony, which means it's punishable by a minimum of two years in prison, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. If it's determined there is some type of firearm involved, then you're looking at a minimum of 10 years in prison. Maximum fines for Class B felonies in Alabama are $10,000 each.
The amended part of the law, as defined in Alabama Act 2012-393 in House Bill 376, keeps all of this, but adds that you can be convicted under this statute if you have possession with the INTENT to distribute.
What this basically means is that law enforcement does not have to catch you in the actual act of trafficking in drugs, as they did previously. What they must prove in order to gain a conviction now is that you were in possession of drugs that you intended to sell or distribute. Some ways they might determine this would be if you had an excessive quantity of the drug in your possession (more than one could reasonably argue as being for personal use) or if the drugs were packaged in such a way as to indicate they were about to be sold individually. Other evidence could include large sums of cash, possession of firearms and certain drug sale paraphernalia, such as a scale.
This law became effective August 1st.
A second drug-related measure passed by the Alabama State Legislature is a law that targets the sale of certain types of cold medicines (like Mucinex) that have historically been used to produce methamphetamine.
Specifically, the Over the Counter Drug Regulation, amends the Code of Alabama Sections 13A-12-260 and 20-2-190, to become Alabama Code 20-2-190.2, which states that over-the-counter products containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine must now only be sold by a licensed pharmacist. It also forbids convicted drug offenders from being allowed to purchase either drug and establishes a drug tracking law that will catalog all criminal convictions – felony as well as misdemeanor – across the country relating to methamphetamine.
For those who purchase cold medications for the purpose of selling it to methmakers, a practice called "smurfing," the penalties have been increased.
The law, which also went into effect Aug. 1, lowers the amount customers can buy in a month-long period from 9 grams to 7.5 grams and requires purchasers to show either a passport, state ID, driver's license or military ID card.
Contact Birmingham Criminal Defense Attorney Steven Eversole at (866) 831-5292.