When someone is found with a controlled substance on their person, they are in violation of the law. Police have strong evidence to put arrest this person, and prosecutors can use this evidence as cause for a conviction.

As bad as possession charges are, they can get worse. Based on assumption alone, police could elevate a simple possession charge to possession with intent. This makes the penalties far steeper, and they can completely ruin someone’s life.

In this article, we will explore the differences between the two crimes. We will also look into some justifications the police use to elevate possession to possession with intent.

The Core Difference

Ultimately, the major difference between the two charges is what the possessor intends to do with the drugs. Having illegal narcotics for personal use is illegal simply because you have them. These are “controlled substances,” meaning the government can decide who is allowed access to them. A possession arrest is not about using drugs, it’s about having drugs.

These substances are meant to be “controlled” by the government, and it takes that control seriously. In theory, there should be no reason for anyone to have cocaine. Therefore, it is bought, sold, and distributed only through illegal means. Possession with intent is about keeping governmental control. More than just having drugs in your possession, an intent charge claims that you meant to distribute them.

Differences in Penalties

Because of the nature of each crime – having vs. distributing a drug – the government charges each very differently. This is true across all states and even at a federal level. Possession with intent is highly illegal, and the government wants to discourage it at all costs.

Penalties in Nevada

Drug Possession

  • Class D felony
  • Up to seven years in jail
  • Fines up to $10,000
  • Two or more offenses is considered “persistent,” and the charge is elevated to a Class C felony
    • 3 – 10 years in jail
    • Fines up to $10,000

Possession with Intent

  • Class B or Class A felony, depending on the drug
    • Class B
      • 5 – 15 years in prison
    • Class A
      • 10 – 50 years in prison

As you can see, both are harsh, and either allegation can ruin someone’s life. Possession with intent, however, could effectively take everything from you, keeping you imprisoned for three decades. If you’ve been charged with either crime, seek the help of a good attorney immediately. You have a right to a defense, no matter what, and you are innocent until proven guilty. Get professional help to preserve your innocence and your freedom.

Evidence That Elevates a Standard Possession Charge

As mentioned, the cops can make assumptions about intent when they find someone with drugs. Much of this evidence can be weak, and you can make a solid argument against it in court.

Distribution Paraphernalia

Authorities are likely to make connections about your intent depending on what else they find. For instance, imagine they find someone who not only has uncut heroin, but they also have baggies, scales, and the like. Most cops will take these items as proof of intent to distribute.

Of course, there could be several other reasons for this paraphernalia. Perhaps you have an online store, and you need these things for your product. Maybe you’re an avid baker, and the scales help keep your ingredients within proper amounts. If there is a reasonable, alternative explanation for these items, allow your attorney to use it to help prove your innocence.


Sometimes police make assumptions about you based on who you know. If they, for instance, find that you’ve called or texted a known dealer, they might jump to conclusions. Associating with a criminal is not, in and of itself, a crime. This person could be a childhood friend, and maybe you don’t condone their actions. That doesn’t mean you should be arrested for their crimes.

It’s also important to question how the police found this information. If they went through your cellphone or monitored your phone calls, did they have the authority to do so? Police should not be delving into your personal information without a court-ordered warrant. Make sure that your attorney thoroughly investigates the cops’ methods. If there is evidence that they overstepped their bounds, your case could be thrown out.

The Amount of Drugs

Cops can speculate on your intentions simply by the amount of drugs they find. It’s a reasonable assumption. If someone has kilos and kilos of cocaine, it probably isn’t for personal use.

The problems begin when police jump to conclusions. An avid pot smoker, for instance, may keep a substantial stash in the home. There are not always direct formulas for police to use, and there’s no chart to tell them X amount of drugs is an automatic intent charge. What seems like a lot to one may not be the same for another. If a standard possession charge is elevated to intent just by the amount of drugs present, contact an attorney. They may be able to help you prove that there was no intent to distribute, and the police made assumptions.

If you need help with either a drug possession or possession with intent allegation, contact our attorneys today. We may be able to take on your case and help fight your charges. Our number is (636) 400-1177, and you can contact us online.