Facing drug crime charges may take a toll on your life and cause innumerable negative consequences, including imprisonment. The state of Minnesota has stringent rules concerning possession and selling of controlled substances that often subject a suspect of the crime to hefty penalties and fines. The adverse consequences of first-degree possession of controlled substances are understandable from a policy perspective, especially because of the concerning effects of drug abuse in society. However, numerous cases end in the unlawful conviction of a defendant, sometimes because of the introduction of unlawful evidence during a trial. You may face overwhelming accusations backed with unauthorized or unconstitutional sources of information that violate your constitutional rights and are truly draconian.

When you are set to face charges for first-degree possession of controlled substances, you need a criminal defense lawyer who will work diligently investigate the case, litigate all discovery matters, and present arguments and evidence in court to dispute the prosecutor’s claims. At Ringstrom Law in Moorhead, Minnesota, we have decade of experience litigating drug cases, and have a high degree of success protecting our clients from the system. Our team puts your interests first, and endeavors to create a personal relationship with each client. We are passionate about criminal justice and believe that you should not be subjected to unfair and unlawful trial processes when facing drug charges.

The Legal Definition of First-Degree Possession

The Minnesota statutes contains numerous laws to govern alleged criminal actions in the state, including prohibitory provisions related to drug possession. Section 152.01 subsection 2 defines the prerequisites for entering drug possession charges against a suspect. Since there are numerous controlled substances, the section also gives individualized information about each type of controlled substance and states the minimum quantity that will get you arrested for the crime of first-degree possession. Section 152.01 gives a broad definition of the term “possession” as used in entering criminal charges. You possess something if you control the substance exclusively, or have direct access to the controlled substance. Essentially, this means that you have special access and the ability to control the substance, which (typically) no other person has.

The quantitative information that amounts to first-degree possession of controlled substances on each listed drug is as follows:

Cocaine and Methamphetamine

You will face first-degree possession charges if you hold or possess at least 50 grams of one or multiple mixtures of methamphetamine or cocaine. You could possess either of the two or have them mixed into a single concoction. Independent of the formulation, the presence of any of these substances will warrant arrest and charges for first-degree possession.

Possessing a Firearm and Cocaine/Methamphetamine

Having control over a firearm by itself is not a crime, as long as you have a license for it. However, if you possess at least 25 grams of methamphetamine or cocaine as well as a firearm in order to intimidate, coerce, or protect your ability to possess the controlled substances, you will face charges for the crime of first-degree possession. In such a case, you will be suspected to have the intention to harm others using the firearm, especially if you engage in selling or transferring the controlled substances in an illegal scheme.


If you possess at least 25 grams of heroin, you automatically qualify to face the criminal charges as well. The drug is highly addictive and expensive to sell in illegal drug sales, leading to a lower quantitative threshold for the charge. Therefore, you face a greater chance of receiving higher penalties if you possess more significant heroin quantities upon your arrest.

Other Narcotic Drugs

You will face the same charges if you are allegedly in possession of any other drugs apart from cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Thus, if you possess at least 500 grams of drugs like regular amphetamine or lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), among others, you qualify for first-degree possession of a controlled substances charge. It is also important to note that these substances may be in mixtures or individual packaging, and each amount will count to meet the minimum weight requirement for the criminal charge. For example, if you have 250 grams of amphetamine and 300 grams of LSD, they all add up to one measurement that qualifies you for first-degree possession charges.


Having at least 50 kilograms of marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinols also translates to first-degree possession of controlled substances.

Alternatively, if you allegedly own 500 or more marijuana plants, you will face first-degree possession charges as well.

Elements of Crime that the Prosecution Must Prove

Accusations of first-degree possession of controlled substances are very serious and typically require substantial evidence to back up the allegations. The prosecutor represents the state in a criminal case because each offense is a violation of state laws. The prosecution is obligated work to provide a fair trial by proving that your actions satisfy each element of the crime. He or she must fully prove that you are guilty beyond any reasonable doubt before you can face a conviction. The judge will instruct the jury that the state’s failure to prove just one of the elements should result in a not guilty verdict, because there may be unresolved doubts surrounding the facts of your case.

You should know that any conviction based on unjustified claims is a violation of the rule of law and your rights. Your criminal defense lawyer works to raise doubts and question any evidential presentations made by the prosecution, until a coherent and reasonable argument is presented. The elements that the prosecution must prove beyond doubt are:

Knowledge of Possession

The prosecution should demonstrate that you had full knowledge about the possession of controlled substances and that you knew you had control over them in terms of storage, transfer, and other activities. The prosecutor mostly relies on circumstantial evidence, including your behavior and the location of the controlled substances in relation to you, to show that you exclusively controlled the substance. Therefore, the knowledge should be personal to you and not merely a report from witnesses who have seen you near the controlled substances. The prosecution may ask several questions during the trial or rely on your investigation interview statements to put evidence in front of the jury that shows you knew that you were in possession.

Regardless of such statements, your defense lawyer can object to any evidence collected from unfair subjection or pressure to speak. For example, if you faced violence or threats from officers undertaking an investigation that forced you to give self-incriminating evidence, we can seek orders to rule the statements out as admissible evidence. These kinds of statements were extraction in violation of due process of law; for a judge to allow their admissibility would undermine the very system of laws that are supposed to protect us from government overreach.

Moreover, you should note that the prosecutor is unlikely to emphasize your knowledge that possessing the controlled substances was wrong. It is immaterial whether you were aware of law provisions that declare your actions as illegal. As a result, ignorance of the law or its deliberate defiance is not a factor for consideration in the case. Knowledge of the law does matter in very specific instances, typically related to other criminal charges like voting as a convicted felon, and failing to register as a predatory offender.

You Had Criminal Intent

Similar to the element of knowledge, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you had an intention, objective, or purpose to achieve with the controlled substance in your possession. Here, the prosecution will use any other circumstantial evidence collected from investigations to derive legal conclusions about your intentions. For example, if you allegedly possess drug paraphernalia that was recovered by the police, the prosecutor may make an inference that you intended to consume the controlled substance using the paraphernalia.

Your activities just before arrest play a significant role in enabling the prosecutor to derive certain facts that prove your criminal intentions. For example, if you allegedly packed the controlled substances into smaller packages, the prosecution will almost certainly argue that you intended to sell or distribute them, even if you had not begun the operation.

The element of intent has a direct link to your knowledge of having control over the substances. Therefore, the prosecution will aspire to show that you intended to use any of the circumstances around your case for a subsequent action. Thus, even if you were allegedly holding the controlled substances for someone else, your intention to deliver it to that other person is enough to show the element of criminal intention, mainly because it is illegal to distribute such substances.

You Possessed the Controlled Substance

For a successful demonstration of possession, the prosecutor should show that you accessed the drugs exclusively and that you had control over them. Possession can also include owning a key or a password that opens up a safe or a box where the controlled substances are stored. Besides that, you possess the controlled substances if you can control the drugs directly, or by instructing another person.

While this element may be easy to prove based on physical evidence, some technicalities could give you an advantage over the prosecutor’s claims. First, the government should be required to prove that you had direct control over the substances, and that you were not merely within the environment where such drugs were in circulation or use or stored by someone else. For example, if you live in a house where controlled substances are stored, the prosecutor is not supposed to put all the blame on you because you do not exercise control over the drugs (but make no mistake: frequently they will try to put the blame on whomever they can). Additionally, it is not enough for the prosecution to show that you have relationships with suspects who are charged with possession. The government will probably try to show that the other suspects actively engaged you in their schemes by giving you a share of the controlled substances, or providing you with direct access to the drugs.

The Item in Question Is a Controlled Substance

Sometimes, suspects undergo trial for collected evidence that ultimately cannot be proven to be controlled substances. As a result, the prosecutor should ensure that the substances collected upon your arrest undergo scientific tests that validate his/her claims. Consequently, your criminal defense lawyer must ensure that all the testing methods and personnel involved in analyzing the controlled substances are credible and professional. There are instances in which the government’s chemical testing is insufficient for any number of reasons: application of a field test instead of the admissible gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, dishonest/lazy/biased lab technicians, and sometimes even faulty or dirty equipment. Typically, you are entitled to have your own test conducted if you and your attorney believe that it may benefit your defense.

After the scientific testing process, the prosecutor will present a drug certificate in court to prove that the samples are confirmed as controlled substances. Typically, such drug certificates fall under the classification of testimonial statements because they are affidavits to support the drug analyst’s testimony. Hence, your lawyer will have a chance to conduct a cross-examination session with the analyst to ensure that what he/she says aligns with the drug certificates. Under Melendez-diaz v. Massachusetts 557 U.S 305 (2009), you have a Sixth Amendment right to confront in court an analyst who conducted the test.

Penalties for First-Degree Possession of a Controlled Substance

If the prosecutor is successful in proving all the elements of crime, you will face a range of penalty options. In the state of Minnesota, the crime of first-degree possession of a controlled substance is a felony that attracts hefty punishments. The laws are not lenient, even to a first-time offender, because of the severity of the crime. A number of sentencing guidelines require judges to issue a minimum of around five years for any first-time offender of the crime.

You may theoretically face up to forty years in prison if the presiding judge or jury finds you guilty of the crime of first-degree possession. You could also face a $1,000,000 fine for the same crime. Lastly, you may face both penalties at the judge’s discretion. In such a situation, you may have the option of facing a reduced jail sentence, compensated by paying up the fine. It is, however, unlikely that you could simply pay a fine in exchange for a reduced sentence, as this would allow the wealthy to directly buy their way out of punishment.

If you have a previous criminal record related to a drug conviction, you stand at a disadvantaged position because you face a mandatory minimum prison term. Therefore, the judge can enhance your sentence by adding extra jail time even if the sentence would otherwise be shorter.

Other Consequences of a First-Degree Possession of a Controlled Substance Conviction

Apart from the punitive component of the sentence pronounced by the judge, you will face additional consequences after the conviction that may make your life a more difficult. These consequences (sometimes called collateral consequences) influence your life well beyond your release from jail, and may even affect your daily life. Some of the collateral consequences of a conviction are:

Losing Your Right to Own Firearms

If your case involved using a firearm to harm or threaten anyone who you thought may take hold of your controlled substances, the state will revoke your right to own a firearm in the future. As a result, you will be ineligible for making applications to receive a firearm license any time in the future.

Losing the Right to Vote

In many cases, your conviction could result in the loss of your voting rights. While voting is a fundamental constitutional right available to all American citizens of age, aggravated charges may lead to a revocation of your rights. Most probationers in Minnesota do not have the right to vote while on probation.

Suspension or Revocation of Professional Licenses

People who work in licensed professional fields like doctors, lawyers, and real estate agents, among others, have a lot to lose in terms of their sources of livelihoods. After the judge finds you guilty of first-degree possession of a controlled substance, you will lose your working license. Since your criminal record will show involvement in felonious activities, it may be difficult to convince the regulatory board in your work field to allow you to re-apply for a license.


Immigrants incurring a felony conviction also face the possibility of deportation. Essentially, this means that the government will order for a return to your home country. Additionally, you may be marked as inadmissible for future returns, meaning that you will be unable to access the country in the future. However, your criminal lawyer may be able to negotiate lenient deportation that provides a minimum duration before you can return to the United States. IF YOU ARE NOT A NATURAL-BORN CITIZEN OR NATURALIZED CITIZEN, TELL YOUR CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER IMMEDIATELY. It has an enormous impact on your case.

Minimum Sentencing for Future Convictions

After completing your sentence, you may find it hard to integrate back into society seamlessly. If you happen to face any future convictions, the judge will typically be required to include a compulsory minimum (or mandatory minimum) sentence for your case. This requirement has a punitive and deterrent basis designed to prevent you from engaging in illegal activities again.

Aggravating Factors to Your Case

Similar to any criminal case, several actions are inexcusable and will amount to a more significant punishment. These activities often involve subjecting innocent parties to the dangers associated with possessing the controlled substance. Specific factors will aggravate your case and warrant the judge’s imposition of a hefty penalty or enhance the available options to a higher degree. Some of these factors are:

Misusing a Position of Trust or Authority to Enable Possession

Abuse of office is detrimental to character, as well as credibility in court. When a defendant involves himself or herself in taking advantage of a professional position to get away with drug possession, he/she will consequently face more severe penalties. For example, if you are the head supervising officer in a warehouse, you could have exclusive privileges to an office or a special storage unit where you store the controlled substance in large quantities. Since you have direct access to the substance and can exercise control over it, you will face the criminal charges under a first-degree classification. Subsequently, the abuse of power or trust may result in more adverse outcomes in your case.

Possessing the Controlled Substance Near a School

Investigations may reveal your intention to sell or distribute the drugs to underage students in the event that you are arrested near an educational facility while in possession of a significant amount of a controlled substance. Additionally, previous cases have revealed schemes used by suspects to include minors in drug trafficking, with or without their knowledge. Therefore, possessing the substance near a school will raise more concern and possibly attract higher penalties. Moreover, you may pose a danger to innocent bystanding children in the event that there is a confrontation between drug dealers within such a location. Subsequently, you face additional charges for exposing minors and other persons to danger within the school vicinity.

You Benefited Gang Activities

If, while possessing controlled substances, you work hand in hand with an organized gang to store or eventually sell the drugs, this will almost certainly affect the ultimate sentence. Thus, if investigations reveal that you helped a gang benefit from the controlled substances you owned, the prosecutor may open additional charges of aiding and abetting an organized criminal group to engage in criminal activities.

Defenses to the Crime of First-Degree Possession of a Controlled Substance

Finding a dedicated criminal lawyer who prepares adequately for argument presentations in court will be pivotal to a positive outcome. While most statements do not guarantee an absolute acquittal, they will mitigate the circumstances surrounding your case and reduce the penalties you face. The possible defenses you can expect are:

You Are a Victim of Planted Evidence

Sometimes, you may fall victim to another person’s malicious behavior and end up paying for their crimes. Several reported cases involve unlawful planting of evidence on an innocent party in order for the planting party to avoid legal consequences. For example, if you are at an airport security check and lose sight of your luggage even for a short time, a malicious party may evade impending danger by putting his/her controlled substance package in your suitcase or bag. If you raise such a line of argument, your attorney will probably need to produce some kind of evidence like footage that shows the third party’s action of placing the controlled substance in your possession without your knowledge.

An Unauthorized Search and Seizure Occurred

An investigation involving searching private premises, including your home, must be backed by a search warrant authorized by a court order, or at least justified by a valid search warrant exception. Therefore, if the evidence before the court was obtained from an illegal search by authorities, your lawyer can refute the admission of the items and request the judge to rule it out or exclude it from the body of admissible evidence. If there is enough legal justification presented by your attorney, the presiding judge or jury should observe the legal provisions and strike out the evidence.

The Testing and Weighing of the Controlled Substance Was Inaccurate

When you suspect the integrity of the drug testing process, your lawyer can request submission of all the data used in the procedures, followed by an independent testimony from a third party who is qualified to perform the same job. You may also request the checking of weighing equipment used to measure the weight of the controlled substances. It is essential to remember that details like the quantity of the substance influence the entire outcome of the subsequent charges you face. Therefore, you may evade a trial for first-degree possession of a controlled substance if a re-run on the sample measurements produces lower numerical records than before.

Contact a Criminal Defense Law Firm Near Me

Drug possession in the first degree may attract serious consequences that involve up to forty years in jail. Thus, if you face such charges, you need the legal services of a qualified criminal defense attorney who has years of experience in the field. At Ringstrom Law, we dedicate our time to each case before us and work to achieve the best results for you. We have helped many people in Moorhead, Minnesota, and elsewhere to receive a fair and procedural trial that delivered favorable outcomes. We have also successfully gotten evidence suppressed in a number of serious drug cases, including first-degree controlled substance. If you are currently facing first-degree possession of controlled substance charges, call us today at 218-284-0484.

MN criminal defense attorneys Bruce Ringstrom Jr. & Bruce Ringstrom Sr.

Bruce Ringstrom Jr. & Bruce Ringstrom Sr.

Criminal Defense Attorneys in MN & ND

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