There are many variations in the way that Atlanta drug cases can be handled in court, depending on the nature of the charges and other factors. Consulting with an Atlanta drug lawyer can help you understand what to expect from an Atlanta drug case in court.
Felony drug possession cases are heard in the Superior Courts of the counties in the Metropolitan Atlanta area. Misdemeanor drug cases are typically heard in the Recorder’s Courts, Municipal Courts, and the courts referred to as State Courts. Most drug possession cases are felonies. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor and can be heard in lower courts. Possession of almost any other drug is a felony and will be heard in the Superior Courts.
The Superior Courts and the State Courts have the authority to allow someone to have a jury trial. The Municipal Courts and the Recorder’s Courts have no authority to give a jury trial and a person may have a judge or bench trial in those courts or they may ask that their case be transferred to a Superior or State Court. A person charged with almost any offense involving drug possession or drug activity has the right to have a trial in Georgia in front of a judge or in front of a judge and jury.
The amount of time that a drug case takes in Atlanta – from the date of the arrest until the final plea or trial date – varies greatly depending on the court. Fulton County Superior Court, which is the primary superior court for the Atlanta area, has up to a two-year backlog to provide trials in drug cases. However, the Municipal Courts in which people are charged with misdemeanor offenses such as possession of less than an ounce of marijuana can expect their case to last about five months.
In order to prove that someone is guilty of possession of drugs in a Georgia drug offense case, the prosecutor must convince the judge or the jury that the person accused had knowledge that the item in question was a controlled substance or drug and, that the person had the ability and the intent to exercise dominion and control over the substance.
Quite often, when the police pull over a car and they smell marijuana and search the vehicle, the officer will find maybe half of a marijuana cigarette; this used to be called a roach. Even if it’s only one roach, the officer might arrest everyone in the car, perhaps four or five people, under the theory that it was joint possession which means that everyone in the car possesses that one roach. At trial, it’s not enough to show that all the passengers in the car and the driver were in spatial proximity to that one roach (meaning that they were in the vehicle), they must prove that each individual person had knowledge that it was in the vehicle and, that they had the ability to exercise dominion and control over it.