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What does the drug charge ‘intent to distribute’ mean?

Dealing drugs is a more serious crime than possessing illegal drugs for personal use. Any drug charge has the potential to be harmful to a Baton Rouge defendant. However, "intent to distribute" alleges the defendant meant to sell or sold drugs in his or her possession.

In some cases, Louisiana law enforcers identify drug traffickers by witnessing transactions, either as non-participants or undercover agents. But, police don't have to see a defendant with a customer to make this charge. Circumstantial evidence can be used by prosecutors to convince a judge or jury the defendant was a dealer.

Remember, it's a prosecutor's job to show, beyond a reasonable doubt, a defendant committed a crime. A criminal defense attorney can introduce uncertainty by challenging the state's indirect evidence used to show intent.

Have you noticed reports about drug crimes include items other than drugs in the defendant's possession? A report may say the defendant had a large sum of cash, certainly not illegal in an isolated instance, but highly suspicious in the eyes of the public and minds of jurors when linked to the possession of drugs.

Significant drug quantities can indicate, but not prove absolutely, the defendant had more in mind than individual use. The inference is the defendant had a lot of drugs because the accused was a dealer. There are no clearly defined guidelines separating drug amounts for personal use and distribution.

The discovery of packaging materials, like plastic bags and other paraphernalia often used for measuring and weighing substances, can suggest the defendant was preparing to distribute and sell drugs. A large number of personal contacts -- pulled from messages, numbers and names found in emails, texts and phone calls -- may infer the accused was a dealer.

Defense attorneys know circumstantial evidence alone doesn't have the power to prove guilt, unless a court arrives at the same conclusions as prosecutors.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Legally Speaking, What is Intent to Distribute?" Andrew Chow, accessed Feb. 26, 2015

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