Alabama Methamphetamine Penalties Increased by Weight

Any time a person is arrested on charges related to manufacturing, sale or possession of methamphetamine in Alabama, the potential penalties are severe.

The popularity of the drug, produced by mixing and cooking over-the-counter cold medicine and household cleaning products, has swept the nation in recent years. It was named the “No. 1 drug threat in Alabama” by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The seriousness of the charges against defendants will depend heavily on intentions. Specifically, the law seeks to differentiate between possession for personal use and possession for sale. Because prosecutors don't read minds, one of the primary ways this determination is made is by evaluating the weight of the drug (or active ingredients) involved. Presumably, those who intend possession for personal use would have smaller amounts than someone possessing the drug for sale.

Our Birmingham methamphetamine defense lawyers know one of the key ways to argue for reduced charges is to challenge the weight of the drug involved. This is a particularly effective defense when we are dealing with the precursor chemicals involved in methamphetamine manufacturing.

For example, if authorities argue for enhanced penalties because defendant possessed 28 grams of pseudoephedrine (one of the key ingredients in methamphetamine manufacturing), we would argue that's not an effective measure. Rather, investigators would need to show how much methamphetamine that amount of pseudoephedrine might reasonably yield – which is likely to be less than original weight.

In Alabama, the law holds any person who knowingly sells, manufactures, delivers, brings into the state or is in actual or constructive possession of 28 grams or more of methamphetamine – or any mixture containing the active ingredients – is guilty of felony trafficking in illegal drugs. For someone with between 28 grams and 500 grams, the minimum mandatory sentence is three years, plus a $50,000 fine. Someone possessing between 500 grams, but less than 1 kilo will face up to five years in prison and a $100,000 fine. Someone possessing between 1 kilo but less than 10 kilos will face up to 15 years in prison, plus a $250,000 fine. Anyone with 10 kilos or more will face a mandatory term of life imprisonment.

One example of a recent challenge of weight limits associated with the precursor chemicals in methamphetamine occurred in Indiana, in the case of Buelna v. State, heard by the Indiana Supreme Court. Although drug laws and penalties vary from state-to-state, the same legal principles apply.

According to court records, defendant was charged with a top-level felony for manufacturing methamphetamine. This was an enhancement from a lower-level felony because at least 3 grams of the drug were at issue. (Indiana's threshold for felony trafficking is 3 grams, where Alabama's is 28 grams.)

Subsequently, a jury found defendant guilty of the top-level felony. Defendant appealed, arguing there was not enough evidence to support the enhancement under the 3-gram limit because the state weighed the pre-manufactured mixture, as opposed to presenting evidence indicating how much final product the mixture would have yielded.

The Indiana Supreme Court agreed with defendant on this point, and did find the state failed to present sufficient evidence. However, the conviction was upheld due to other circumstances specific to this case. In particular, evidence was presented indicating defendant manufactured additional final product that exceeded that 3-gram limit.

In addition to weight-limit challenges, defense lawyers may also argue for suppression of evidence in drug cases where police:

  • Failed to read defendant his or her rights
  • Ignored requests for a lawyer
  • Interrogated defendant with violence or coercion
  • Conducted an illegal traffic stop
  • Conducted a search without a warrant or probable cause

If you are arrested for a methamphetamine-related offense in Alabama, contact our offices immediately.

Additional Resources:

Buelna v. State, Nov. 13, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court