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How is intent to distribute determined?

What does it mean to truly know what another person is thinking? Philosophy aside, both Michigan and federal law make it a crime to intend to sell or distribute a controlled substance like methamphetamine or a legal drug like fentanyl if you are not a licensed physician. Even if the sale never actually goes through, you can still be charged with intent to distribute, a serious felony at the federal level.

To get a conviction, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you possessed an illegal substance and that you intended to traffic it to others. How do they accomplish this?

Evidence of intentions

Since the police cannot get inside a suspect’s thoughts, the authorities take an indirect approach. Surrounding evidence is considered enough to prove the defendant’s state of mind when the police arrested them. For example, if the police say the defendant had possession of an amount of drug too large for their personal use, that could be evidence of intent to distribute. So can possession of paraphernalia like baggies, large amounts of cash and text messages or other communications from buyers.

What ‘possession’ means in drug law

Note that “possession” does not necessarily mean in the defendant’s hands, clothes, or even close by. It means that you knew (or reasonably should have known) that the drugs were within your control. Courts generally interpret “within control” to include inside your home, workplace, vehicle or other place you have easy access to.

Timing also matters. A person who allegedly intended to sell drugs has not committed intent to distribute until those drugs come into their possession (though prosecutors might charge the person with conspiracy).

You are not powerless against intent to distribute charges

Federal drug charges are a very serious matter. But you are not powerless. You can take action, such as by hiring an experienced defense attorney, to work toward the best possible outcome for your case.

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