So you got into trouble at a Las Vegas club. Don't feel bad. It happens every night to good people. As a criminal defense attorney, I talk to people in your shoes almost every day. And doesn't it seem like Las Vegas in general, and the clubs in particular, are sold as the place to be when you're up to no good? Doesn't it seem like Vegas clubs are sold to people interested in more than just "good clean fun"?
Take the Wynn, for example. Wade through the cacophony of slots and table games and you'll come across clubs called Tryst and XS, naked allusions to lust and overindulgence. Standard Sin City stuff. Then there's Surrender. The "S" in its title is a serpent coiled around the forbidden fruit that gets Adam and Eve trespassed from the Garden of Eden. Surrender makes the biblical fall of man into a tempting come-on, promising not just sin, but original sin—old school Old Testament sin worthy of God's wrath. But what is mere sin compared to outright evil? The Bellagio's Hyde suggests just that. Mr. Hyde, of course, is the sinister alter ego of the mild-mannered Dr. Jekkl in Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novella. In true Vegas style, Dr. Jekkl wants to indulge in a little vice without damaging his reputation, so he drinks a potion of his own design and transforms into Mr. Hyde, brutal murderer and all-around hideous sociopath. Always ready to party. So if you buy bottle service at Hyde and don't end up committing multiple homicides, your night could be considered a failure by some measures. But let's get back to you and why you're here.
Tell me if this sounds familiar. You're in Las Vegas and looking for trouble. Luckily for you, trouble is easy to find in this town, even at high end casinos named after billionaires. So you end up in one club or another. Maybe some place with a waterfall and plush decor. Maybe you paid 40 or 60 dollars to get in. Night club, day club, beach club, ultra lounge, it's all the same. It's all Vegas night life, even if the sun is up, because a day club is where you go when you haven't slept the night before. So maybe it's 10 at night or 12 midnight or 2 or 4 in the morning. It doesn't matter. In a 24-hour town, the night is always young.
The club is a living mass of uninhibited libido and aggressive posturing, with packs of men desperately jockeying to display status, surgically enhanced women in platforms and mini dresses vying for attention, and voyeurs just enjoying the show. The dance floor is a grotesque beast with tangled limbs, sweating profusely and smelling pungently of musk and alcohol, flesh twitching and thrusting to the breakneck beat of the music. House or trance or maybe even Hip Hop, but always something electronic, maddeningly up tempo, so loud its like liquid.
Hideously overpriced drinks come in waves, and you toast to new friends, old friends, and complete strangers. Euphoria is short-lived, and turns to a vague fuzziness. As you throw back beers and shots, you eventually forget that this is the most expensive buzz you've ever bought. Another drink or two and your confidence rises while your wit dulls somewhat. The music's volume makes conversation difficult to follow, even impossible, unless your ear is resting on the speaker's lips. You nod affirmatively more than once to something you didn't understand at all. You edge closer and closer to blackout.
At some point, in the interest of keeping the party going, someone procures a bit of white powder, probably about a gram or three, packaged in a small plastic bag. Someone cheekily refers to the drugs as "party favors." Someone chops lines with a credit card and rolls up a hundred dollar bill. Your turn. And now why alcohol is the real "gateway drug." Your inhibitions are lowered. Impulses are harder to resist. Ideas good, bad, and catastrophic are unfettered by any need to think things through. You think about those television ads promising "what happens is Vegas stays in Vegas" and you decide to do a line or two, either at your table or in the restroom or both. Your face is a little numb. You're sobering up. Talking faster. Thinking faster. The euphoria is back. Conversation becomes very interesting. And everyone is having a good time. This is the Vegas experience you were promised.
Then suddenly the party's over. A serious man in a dark suit invades your personal space. Club security, he says. You are hit by a sudden realization: you've made a miscalculation. Either you weren't as discrete as you thought or Las Vegas isn't as tolerant of cocaine use as you have been led to believe. But lesson learned, time to make your exit and get back to your hotel room. No such luck. The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police are on you like a swarm of angry wasps. They shout questions at you but your answers don't matter. They test it and indeed its cocaine. Arrest is inevitable.
Then you're sobering up on the ride to jail, your hands cuffed behind you as if you're some violent criminal, some Mr. Hyde picked up after a fresh murder. You arrive at the Clark County Detention Center. They fingerprint you and take down your personal details. You begin to panic when they tell you you're being charged with possession of a controlled substance, a felony. Then they release you to the street because you don't have a criminal record. Not prior to this, anyway. Your release papers warn you not to miss your return court date, set several months out in Las Vegas Justice Court.
You're on a plane home and you have questions. What is going to happen? Is possession of a small amount of cocaine for personal use really such a serious offense in Las Vegas? What will be on my criminal record? How much is all of this going to cost? Do I really have to come back to court? Could I actually be facing jail time?
I am a criminal defense attorney. I can answer your questions. But more importantly, I can take care of your cocaine possession case favorably, quickly, and for a reasonable price. I can't promise a particular outcome for your case, but I have helped many good people in your exact situation avoid jail time and keep their criminal records clean.
I am writing this on the 12th of December, 2014, and in the past few weeks alone I have achieved outstanding results for 4 men charged with felony cocaine possession in Las Vegas. While the small details of each case have varied, I have achieved the following consistently for all 4 men:
These are great results. And results I get consistently. Again, I can't make guarantees, but if I am your lawyer I will fight to get you everything listed above, just as I have for many others before you. If all goes to plan, within a few days we'll be in court and I'll have negotiated the total dismissal of your charges, and you won't ever have to come back to Las Vegas to set foot in any courtroom, face a judge, or talk to a prosecutor.
This article is about how I handle cocaine possession charges for my clients. Let's start with a brief summary of the law.
Cocaine is a controlled substance in Las Vegas and everywhere else in the United States. Controlled substances are drugs that are either highly regulated or outright illegal due to their addictive properties and supposed lack of legitimate medical uses.
Specifically, cocaine is a schedule I controlled substance in its street form, which means that it's the worst of the worst as far as the law is concerned. Cocaine is also a schedule II controlled substance in its prescribed form. Yes, prescription cocaine does exist. Cocaine is similar in its numbing ability to the dental drug Novocain and therefore it can be prescribed by a dentist as a topical pain reliever. Of course, you probably didn't get your cocaine from a dentist, and whether the drug is schedule I or II the charge is the same: possession of a controlled substance, a felony pursuant to the state law NRS 453.336(1).
Specifically, possession of cocaine for personal use is a category E felony. Nevada is a state that has 5 categories of felonies, A through E, with category A being the most serious crimes like sexual assault and murder, and category E being the least serious. But even the least serious felony is still very serious. A category E felony such as cocaine possession is punishable by 1 to 4 years in the Nevada Department of Corrections but that sentence must be suspended in most cases. None of this is going to matter though if your case is defended well. So let's move on and discuss substantive defense of cocaine possession cases.
Recently I was sitting down with a new client in my office and I was outlining my plan to achieve a favorable plea negotiation that would result in a dismissal of the charges and keep her record clean. Then she asked, "But does it matter if I'm really, really guilty?" My answer: probably not.
You probably don't have a good "legal" defense to your cocaine possession charge. You can argue that you didn't possess the cocaine, but I bet a witness or two might have a different opinion to offer. You can say you didn't know it was cocaine, but there aren't too many innocent white substances people snort up their noses in clubs. You can say it wasn't cocaine, but it already tested positive on the scene no matter how cut up it was with baking powder. You can hope evidence gets lost and witnesses don't show up, but that's a real long shot. Luckily, a favorable outcome in a cocaine possession case doesn't depend on having a strong trial defense. Your case is not going to trial. Like over 90 percent of all criminal cases and 100% of my cocaine possession cases, your case will almost certainly end with plea negotiations.
I mentioned above that in just the past few weeks I've negotiated 4 separate cocaine possession cases down to a complete dismissal. None of these 4 guys had a strong legal defense, meaning if we went to trial we would have probably lost. But that didn't matter. So remember, very favorable results can be achieved for even the really, really guilty. Next let's talk about how that's done, step by step.
Let's talk about your case. That's the first step. I offer free consultations and if you call my number, (702) 580-4936, I will answer, not a receptionist. If you're in England or Canada or just the US East Coast there will be some time difference, but try calling now anyway. You can also text or send me an email.
For you the initial consultation serves to answer the questions about your specific case that an article like this can't. I can answer all your questions in a few minutes and if the past is any guide, you're going to feel much better afterward. Knowledge is a great stress reliever when the source of anxiety is largely based on uncertainty.
For me, the initial consultation serves two basic purposes. First, I need basic information about you and your case so I can find out when your court date is set. If you only give me one bit of information, give me your case number. Don't panic if you don't have it. I can look your case up by your name. Your case number will be on your release paperwork. Just so you know what to look for, a Las Vegas Justice Court case number looks like this: 15F01234X. This is a case number I just made up, but if this were a real case the 15 would be the year the case was filed. The F indicates that it's a felony charge. Skip the 5 digit number for now. The X at the end indicates that the case only has one defendant. If there were 2 defendants in the case, the case number would be 15F01234A for the first guy, 15F01234B for the second guy, and so on. The 4 numbers in a row between the X and the F are given in order so that 15F00001X is the first single defendant felony case filed in 2015, 15F00002X is the second, and so on, all the way up to 15F99999X which would be the hundred thousandth single defendant felony case. If the District Attorney hasn't filed the criminal complaint yet, then your case will start with the letters "PC" which indicate "probable cause." The case number with the PC would look like this: PC15F00001X. So that's the number you're looking for. Find it and give it to me, but if you can't, I can get it another by entering your name into the Las Vegas Justice Court Criminal Record Search, but names are misspelled by the District Attorney more frequently than you might think, so case number is preferable (but again, not essential). Now I have the basic information. If I take your case I can show up to your court date, no problem.
The second purpose of the initial consultation for me is investigation—finding out additional information that will help me on your case. You probably think I mean information about the facts of the arrest, like where the drugs were found and that sort of thing. I do need to hear that information, but all these cases tend to follow a similar pattern, so to a certain extent when you've heard one you've heard them all. So more importantly than the facts surrounding the arrest, what I really need to know is all about is you. I need to get a sense of you as a person, find out about your education level, profession, family and home life, and how a conviction for possessing cocaine might negatively affect you in the future. I want to be able to tell the DA with whom I negotiate the case that you're a good guy, family man, clean record, does charity work, that sort of thing. Don't worry if some of that doesn't apply to you. Every person has a story and it's my job, if I'm your criminal defense attorney, to present that in the best light to the prosecutor.
Simply put, the facts of the case will rarely come up in any great detail. Information about the defendant himself has always been more valuable to me in resolving cocaine possession cases. Because usually I am not arguing you didn't do it, that you didn't know it was in your pocket or that you didn't know it was cocaine. That wastes time and gets us nowhere. Instead, I'm making the argument to the DA that you shouldn't have your life ruined over something so minor. And if we're getting a great result—the result we want, including a dismissal of the charges—then there's no need to change that approach. The bottom line is, I want to get to know you during the initial consultation. It won't take long.
I said there were two but there is actually, from my perspective, a third purpose for the initial consultation, and that's to discuss payment of attorney's fees. I charge reasonable flat rates on these cases and I take just about any form of payment, but I don't write detailed information online about my fees so just ask me about that when we speak.
First Court Appearance
Does the defendant have to show up personally if you have a defense lawyer?
No. The initial arraignment, or initial appearance, is just the first court appearance. It's sometimes noted in the Justice Court criminal record database as a felony return court date. If I'm you're attorney you don't need to show up to this hearing. This should come as a great relief to my international and across country potential clients. Here's how the initial appearance goes. The case is going to be set in the morning, 7:30 or 8:00 or 8:30 in one of the several Las Vegas Justice Court Departments currently holding a criminal calendar. Assuming the financial aspect is squared away, I will go into court, tell the clerk I'm confirming as your attorney, and pick up a copy of the criminal complaint and the discovery. Then I'll talk to the Deputy District Attorney ("DDA") who is present that day handling the court's morning calendar, which will consist of potentially dozens of felony, gross misdemeanor, and misdemeanor cases. Chances are, this "calendar deputy" doesn't know much, if anything, about the case. It's my job to explain everything to this prosecutor right then and there, to negotiate the case favorably, with a final outcome involving the dismissal of the charge, no conviction or adjudication of guilt. Most of the time I can achieve this type of favorable result at that first hearing, with the whole process taking a matter of minutes. Other times I will need to do more talking, take more time, and maybe get another prosecutor involved. The point is, I get the right result or I keep fighting for it.
We can probably go to court early and get the case resolved quickly.
Does the defendant have to wait several months to go to court?
Almost certainly not—we can most probably go to court early—very early—possibly getting a favorable resolution in a week instead of waiting several months. To explain this better I need to go into a bit of detail about how criminal charges work.
When you get arrested the cops book you into CCDC with a temporary custody record listing your "charges." But that's a tricky term, because the temporary custody record is not a formal criminal charge. The temporary custody record is just the cops saying they think they have "probable cause" that you committed a crime. At most it's a referral for certain criminal charges, because this document and the police reports will go to the DA as part of a request by police for formal criminal charges. But don't get confused— when you get arrested you haven't been charged with a crime. Not yet, anyway.
If you don't have a record then you will get an "own recognizance release" on a possession of controlled substance charge. This means you get released without having to pay any bail because you're not considered a flight risk or a danger to the community. Now your status, as a defendant, is "out of custody," as opposed to the men languishing in CCDC cells whose status is "in custody." Defendants who are "in custody" get quicker court dates. In fact, there's a law that says defendants in jail must see a judge within 72 hours of their arrest. But that's not you. You're out of custody. So your return court date probably isn't for about 3 months. Do we have to wait? No. I almost always go to court earlier than the out of custody return date on cocaine possession cases. I just need to find the criminal complaint, and once I do I file a motion and I can be in court in 2 business days. Let me explain all that.
Only the prosecutor, in this case the Clark County District Attorney, can decide whether to file formal criminal charges for cocaine possession. The formal criminal charge is filed in the form of a charging document called a "criminal complaint." It is a simple document with your name on in and form language from the Nevada statute prohibiting possession of a controlled substance. It doesn't give much detail about the charge at all. It is just intended to put you on notice that there is, in fact, a certain criminal charge allegedly occurring in Clark County on some particular date. The rest of the factual details have to be filled in by the discovery (police reports, witness statements, and similar documents).
Again, the prosecutor files the formal charging document, not the police, but don't think you won't get charged with cocaine possession just because an arrest is not a formal criminal charge. If the drugs tested positive for coke on the scene, you're getting charged formally and it's just a matter of time. How much time after the arrest does it take for the DA to file the criminal complaint? In these cases it's usually only a matter of days or weeks. So if I'm your attorney we'll be headed to court and have a resolution to your case well in advance of the court date you have now. If I'm your attorney and we're waiting for a criminal complaint to be filed, I will check the Justice Court criminal record database frequently so we don't lose any time.
Once the complaint has been filed, it's a simple matter of filing a motion to place your case on calendar for an early arraignment. This is a simple motion and I can often file it the same day you call, provided the criminal complaint has been filed already. It takes two business days to get into court, so if I file the motion on Monday (before 1100 a.m.), we can be in court on Wednesday. One particular Justice Court department doesn't place matters on calendar as quickly and currently makes us wait a week to get into court, but that's the exception. Now it's time to negotiate the case.
Aiming for the dismissal of charges with special types of plea deals.
How are cocaine possession cases negotiated and what deals can we get?
I mention above in the "Initial Arraignment" section that I often negotiate great deals with the calendar DA on the day of the (early) arraignment. Sometimes I can find out early which Deputy DA has the calendar on our scheduled early arraignment and I can get the case resolved before we go to court, but that would be the exception. Usually I'm negotiating with the prosecutor right in court prior to the start of the calendar, before the judge comes out and takes the bench.
I also explained above that I use personal information that I learn about my clients to argue for a favorable resolution that involves the ultimate dismissal of the charge with no criminal conviction. What's left to discuss? I want to add a little bit more about how I get the results I do, and then I want to detail the specifics of typical deals in cocaine possession cases I handle.
I wrote above that I have consistently gotten my cocaine possession clients great deals that involved no jail time, no criminal conviction, relatively small fines and other requirements, no personal court appearance for the defendant, and the charge ultimately dismissed entirely.
So other than what I already mentioned, how do I achieve these results?
Part of the reason I can achieve great results for my clients in cocaine cases is simply momentum. I can show any prosecutor who may hesitate to offer a dismissal on a cocaine case that I have achieved this very same result recently, multiple times, with other prosecutors in the same office. It's hard to deny that dismissal isn't a fair result when I have copies of case dispositions proving those results, literally right in my hand at the arraignment.
The other thing to know about negotiating cases is that I have built up a rapport with many Deputy District Attorneys over the past several years, running a busy criminal defense firm with numerous cases on calendar every day in different departments and with various Das. Whichever prosecutor gets assigned to your case, chances are, unless he or she is new to the office, I've dealt with him or her many times in the past. So every new case I have benefits from the rapport I've built up over time with many prosecutors with the Clark County District Attorney. I don't mean to imply I can exert undue influence over any prosecutors nor would I if I could. I'm simply saying that it's easier to deal with someone when you have had many successful dealings in the past.
Let's discuss the type of deal we want in a cocaine possession case. As I said, my goal is to get a dismissal at the end of the case, which can happen in as little as a week from the first early court appearance. There are two types of negotiations that get us where we need to be, with the case dismissed and no conviction on your record: the submittal and the stayed adjudication.
Submittal or Stayed Adjudication
The submittal and the stayed adjudication are two special types of plea deals that don't involve admission of guilt or a criminal conviction and allow the defendant to get out of the case without a conviction on his record.
Adjudication is withheld or deferred in both of these types of plea deals. In a submittal, the defendant "submits" to the authority of the court pending completion of case requirements. If the defendant breaches the agreement, he can be held in contempt of court, adjudicated guilty, and sentenced to jail time. In a stayed adjudication, the defendant enters a plea of no contest to a charge but adjudication of guilt is withheld pending completion of case requirements. Breach of the agreement results in adjudication of guilt and the imposition of some specific "suspended jail sentence" as opposed to the wide open "contempt time" imposed in a submittal. So what's the difference? In practical terms, not much. The only real difference that could affect you is that the court will make us do a written plea for a stayed adjudication since the deal involves suspended jail time rather than unspecified possible contempt time. But I can send you the written plea through email or fax so this is not a very significant difference. As long as you stay out of trouble, meaning don't pick up new arrests while the case is open, and complete the other requirements, discussed below, the suspended sentence won't matter.
With both the submittal and the stayed adjudication, the charge has to be pled down to a misdemeanor. You can't submit or stay adjudication as to a felony charge, because the Justice Court wouldn't be able to adjudicate the defendant guilty in the event of a breach. In cocaine possession cases, that lesser charge will be a misdemeanor drug charge called "possession of a dangerous drug not to be introduced into interstate commerce" (confusingly abbreviated as "ITS drugs"), a violation of NRS 454.351. Basically, with the "ITS drug" charge, the "drug" you supposedly possessed fell outside of the various schedules of "controlled substances" and was therefore merely a "dangerous drug." Obviously though, cocaine is a controlled substance, so this is a fictitious plea. It's fake. It's put together to achieve a certain result—here dismissal of the controlled substance charge via submittal or stayed adjudication on an amended charge of ITS drugs.
As I discussed above, the DA isn't just going to dismiss the case without getting something in return. Yes, you've have to stay out of trouble while the case is open, but almost certainly you will have to pay a fine, maybe you'll have to complete an online drug class, and possibly you might have to do some community service. Let's look at each item in a little more detail.
In a cocaine possession case, there will almost certainly be some fine, although not a very big one. I can usually negotiate fines between $350 and $1,000. The fine isn't more than $1,000 because the amended charge is a misdemeanor and $1,000 is the maximum fine for misdemeanors.
By the way, technically, because submittals and stayed adjudications don't involve an adjudication of guilt, the fine is not called a fine. Fines can only be imposed when you're adjudicated guilty via a plea of guilty or no contest or after a trial. So instead, we call this "posting and forfeiting cash bail." But for all practical purposes, it's just a fine. It's a worthless distinction to my potential clients.
You might have to do an online drug class often called "low level drug counseling." The DA doesn't always ask for it, but a good amount of the time they do in exchange for a dismissal of the charge. The word "counseling" is confusing and implies a higher level of involvement than is needed here, because this "low level drug counseling" is just a series of text-based web pages about drug abuse that you read through and answer questions about at the end. Different companies are certified to offer this "class," but I tell people to go with LRS Systems because I know Las Vegas Justice Court accepts their class as satisfying the counseling requirement. On the LRS page, they call this class "Alcohol & Other Drugs." The course is supposedly 8 hours long, but you should be able to do it in less time. The worst part about the class is that it costs $305.00.
This requirement is less common. Doing community service can be a hassle, but it's worth it if that's what it takes to get the charge dismissed. To learn more, read my article about completing community service by order of the court.
I've negotiated the dismissal of cocaine possession charges many times before. I can show you proof if you like. But that said, I can't guarantee the same result for you. All I can say is that my goal in every one of these cases is dismissal of the charge, and I've had great success in that regard.
If and when we get your case dismissed, we can begin the process of record sealing if you decide you want to do that. Record sealing is optional and requires the filing of a separate civil case and is not covered by the flat fee for handling the cocaine possession charge.
Right now you're probably thinking, if the charge gets dismissed, why do I need to seal my record? For a couple of reasons, but one point first: Even if you never seal your record, with a dismissal you have no conviction, no adjudication of guilt, no admission of guilt. Your criminal record is clean. So if you fill out information for a background check and you're asked if you've been convicted of any crime, the answer would be "no." On the other hand, if you are asked whether you have been merely arrested for a crime, the answer is "yes."
Record sealing does two additional things that getting the charge dismissed does not: it eliminates the arrest from Las Vegas Metro's SCOPE and it seals the court record so it can't be accessed. First, even though the case is dismissed, there is still a record of your case in the Justice Court record system, which would show you were charged with cocaine possession and that the charge was dismissed. This information is public. Record sealing changes that. The court records become inaccessible and no one can change that—not even you—without a court order unsealing the record. Second, once the record is sealed, we send the order to the Las Vegas Metroploitan Police Department and they remove the record of your arrest from their SCOPE database. So these are two benefits of record sealing.
Many Las Vegas tourists end up buying fake cocaine from street dealers. It's a safe bet for the dealers because whoever buys the stuff can't take it back, call police, or go to the Better Business Bureau to complain, and possession of fake cocaine, an imitation controlled substance, when you know it's not real cocaine, is just a misdemeanor, whereas possession of controlled substance with intent to sell is a category D felony. The odd thing is that possession of an imitation controlled substance thinking its real is a more serious crime, a gross misdemeanor. The reasoning behind that, if there is any, must be that a seller of fake drugs is only committing a low level fraud, whereas buyers of fake drugs are attempting to commit the felony of possession of a controlled substance.
Many of my clients charged with cocaine possession live outside the States, usually Canada and sometimes the UK. To you I say that, having dealt with many clients in the same position, I understand your concerns, that you want to keep a clean record to avoid future problems at home or when traveling abroad. You would probably prefer not to have to return to Las Vegas for any upcoming court date, but you probably want the case handled quickly, before your currently scheduled court date if possible. So that's what I would be going for as your attorney—no conviction, clean record, no personal court appearance needed, the whole thing wrapped up quick and easy. I can't guarantee that result or any result for that matter, but I'd be happy to show you case dispositions where I did all of those things I listed, multiple times, just in the past 30 days alone.
I get great satisfaction out of achieving great results for my clients. I have certainly achieved great results for many clients charged with cocaine possession in Las Vegas, and I hope I can do the same for you. I don't think it's right on this type of case, cocaine possession for personal use, for a good person to have to plead guilty to some charge and have a criminal conviction on his record, let alone a felony conviction, when these clubs get you drunk and sell you the dream of Las Vegas the adult playground, where you can surrender to temptation and taste of the forbidden fruit, become your own Mr. Hyde, all without suffering any consequences because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. All that's obviously not true. Forbidden fruit is a controlled substance and the Mr. Hyde defense would fail spectacularly at trial. However, that doesn't mean I can't negotiate your case, get it dismissed, and get the record sealed. I've done all of that before and if I'm your attorney I'll fight for a similar result for you. This will cost some money and take some time, but likely less of each than you might imagine. Take the first step and call, text, or email me now.
By Michael Pandullo