Will Civilian Drug Charges Cause Military Consequences?

Colorado has recently reduced the consequences for possession or use of most drugs in the state civilian courts. But will that leniency transfer onto any of the state’s many military bases? Find out whether civilian drug charges cause military consequences and whether you will have any defense under the new state laws.

In this blog, I will discuss how civilian and military investigations of drug use can sometimes interact. I will explain the consequences of Colorado drug convictions, and whether civilian drug charges cause military consequences for active-duty servicemembers.

Colorado Reduces Penalty for Simple Drug Possession and Use Crimes

In May 2019, the Colorado legislature passed a law reducing the civilian consequences of use and possession of Schedule I and II controlled substances and larger quantities of marijuana. These charges used to carry felony consequences, including 6 months to 1 year in jail and fines of $1,000 to $100,000, as well as 1 year of mandatory parole and useful service requirements. Now, those civilian penalties have been reduced.

The maximum consequence for so-called “simple possession” or use under the new law is now 180 days in jail, 2 years probation, and a $1,000 fine. For Schedule III and IV, as well as larger quantities of marijuana, the maximum penalty is even lower: 120 days in jail, 1 year probation, and a $500 fine. The state also offers diversion programs using drug courts or Veterans Treatment Courts to help those who suffer from addiction break the cycle.

However, other drug crimes are still felonies, including manufacturing, distribution, or sale of controlled substances. These crimes still carry with them prison time and steep financial fines, up to as high as 32 years in prison, 3 years on parole, and $1 million in fines. In those cases, state prosecutors must demonstrate more than just that you were found with the drug or “dropped dirty” on a urine test. These charges are reserved for those involved in the illegal sale or distribution of controlled substances.

U.S. Armed Forces Have Zero Tolerance for Drug Use

The reduced consequences of simple drug possession and use have many Colorado residents breathing easier. However, active-duty servicemembers and reservists need to keep their guard up. To be sure that each member of the military is in peak condition for service, the U.S. Armed Forces each randomly test their soldiers for drugs using urinalysis. Anyone who tests positive will face disciplinary or administrative action, up to and including court-martial.

The same is true if your actions off-base result in civilian drug charges. Even if you were arrested or stopped off-base and never used drugs while on duty, you could still face administrative punishment, formal discipline, or even court martial after you receive a civilian conviction. You could even face time in a military jail in addition to the civilian jail time covered above.

Sentences for Civilian Drug Charges Cause Military Consequences of Their Own

Even if you do not end up facing a court-martial because of your civilian drug charges, the sentence that comes with your conviction may keep you from doing your duty. And that could mean further military consequences later on.  Much of this trouble could arise from the terms of your probation or parole.

Probation and parole are two systems of supervision that operate as an alternative to jail time. They each come with a series of “Terms and Conditions”. Common terms in a drug case could include:

  • In-person reporting to a probation or parole officer
  • Following all state and federal laws
  • 100% abstinence from non-prescription drugs, alcohol, or marijuana
  • Drug testing
  • Drug counseling
  • Anger management or other counseling
  • Surrender of all firearms
  • Limitations on out-of-state travel

If a probationer or parolee violates those terms, they could end up heading back to jail or prison. As you can see, some of these terms and conditions can make serving in the military difficult. If your position requires you to use a firearm on duty, or you are assigned to another base during the period of your probation or parole, you could find yourself facing significant consequences in both civilian and military courts.

Drug charges come with significant punishments that could end your military career. They should always be taken seriously. If you hope to save your career, you must talk to a criminal defense attorney with military experience who understands the military consequences of civilian drug charges, and will fight to protect your rights, and your record. Many civilian defense attorneys do not know or consider what could happen to your military career if you plead guilty to a drug misdemeanor. Be sure your lawyer knows both sides of your case, so you don’t make a decision that could end your career.

At Aviso Law, LLC, our criminal defense attorney Ryan Coward is a veteran himself. We know how to address state criminal and court-martial issues for servicemembers facing misdemeanor drug charges for possession and use, all the way up to severe felonies for drug trafficking. We are here to serve you and will see you through the civilian criminal court process. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

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