The answer depends on a whole host of factors, including the following:

  • the type of drugs involved,
  • the amount of drugs involved, and
  • any prior conviction record.

Pennsylvania criminal law varies in terms of the minimum (and maximum) jail sentences for drug possession convictions. The potential sentence depends on the quality and quantity of drugs. Drug sentences will be more severe for certain drugs such as heroin and less severe for possession of small amounts of other drugs, like marijuana.

Related: Philadelphia Drug Charge Q&A: What sentence are you facing?

Also, it is important to note that an individual who is already on probation or parole and gets arrested for a new criminal charge will face a violation of probation/parole charge. This is in addition to the new criminal charge. The standard of proof required to find a probation violation or parole violation is much lower than the standard to sustain a conviction. A Philadelphia judge may deem the evidence sufficient to prove (by a mere preponderance of the evidence) that a defendant violated probation. Probation may be revoked, and the individual may be sent to jail.


There are various ways to challenge a drug charge in Philadelphia (state) court. Prior to trial, the facts may support a motion to suppress evidence based on a constitutional violation. For instance, in an auto stop case which resulted in a drug arrest, there may be grounds to challenge the stop in the first place. If the stop is held to be unconstitutional, statements and drug evidence may be suppressed or thrown out. As a result, the case may be dismissed, or this may increase the defendant’s bargaining power to get a better plea deal on other charges.


In a drug possession case, the prosecution is required to prove that the defendant knowingly possessed the drugs. This means proving that the defendant 1. had ownership or control of the drugs, and 2. knew that the drugs were in fact, drugs. Oftentimes, prosecutors rely on circumstantial evidence to prove guilt. At trial, the evidence may be attacked, and weaknesses may be exposed. Ultimately, this may result in a “not guilty” verdict.

There are other complex legal issues which may come into play. Currently, Pennsylvania drug sentencing law is in a state of flux due to a major U.S. Supreme Court decision which held that sentence enhancement schemes, such as PA’s drug free zone sentence enhancement law, may be unconstitutional. Since then, Pennsylvania courts have ruled in favor of defendants and refused to apply sentence enhancement laws.


David S. Nenner is an experienced criminal defense lawyer who has handled many drug cases in both Pennsylvania state and federal court. He offers a free phone consultation for all drug possession and drug distribution cases. (215) 515-0042

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