As you likely know, the concept of “drug paraphernalia” can constitute any tools, scales, or other items associated with drug possession and/or drug trafficking.  The penalties for a drug paraphernalia charge are typically much less severe than the substantive drug possession or drug trafficking charges.  So, why even charge them?

From a strictly “textbook” perspective, the answer to that question is that all aspects of a criminal incident should be appropriately charged, including any incidental charges that apply, such as possession of drug paraphernalia.  Yet, from a real-world perspective, the drug paraphernalia charge gives prosecutors flexibility.

In short, virtually all – maybe somewhere in the ballpark of 95 to 99% of criminal cases – are resolved through a plea agreement rather than a trial.  Accordingly, when fashioning an appropriate plea offer, prosecutors want to have the most leeway possible to make a plea offer that comports with what he or she thinks is the appropriate punishment.  

Charges like the a drug paraphernalia charge provide that kind of flexibility.  If, for example, a prosecutor wants to go easy on a person, he or she may offer a plea to a drug paraphernalia charge and agree to dismiss the other, more substantive, drug charges.  By contrast, if a prosecutor is making a plea offer to someone with a significant criminal history, then offering to dismiss the drug paraphernalia charge (among other lesser charges) is a way to persuade the defendant that he is getting something for his plea.  

In sum, drug paraphernalia charges are really more important as a bargaining chip in the plea agreement discussion than a necessary charge in any drug case.  Given that, if you are facing drug charges, including drug paraphernalia charges, be sure to see if you and your attorney can use a plea to the lesser charge to your advantage.

Steven R. Adams
Steven R. Adams was a criminal defense lawyer dedicated to DUI, OVI, and criminal defense in Cincinnati, Ohio.