Drug Offenses in Connecticut

The Connecticut legislature has taken a firm stance in the fight to eliminate the possession, sales, and trafficking of controlled substances. Criminal penalties, even for first-time offenders, can be severe, and can leave a permanent stain on your record. As such, it is all the more important to obtain counsel who has the experience and the know-how to provide an effective legal defense against the charges faced. 


To be convicted of illegal possession of a controlled substance, an individual must not only intentionally exercise dominion or control over it, but also know of the substance’s nature, character, and presence. The intent is often very difficult to discern in any criminal matter absent a confession, so a jury may consider circumstantial evidence, as well as reasonable inferences that they draw from such evidence, in determining whether these three elements are established in criminal prosecution.

However, an individual need not be found with a controlled substance on his person to be charged and convicted. Rather, the State may proceed on a theory called constructive possession, arguing that the defendant was in the position of knowingly and intentionally exercising control over the controlled substance. However, an inference of possession cannot be made strictly on the basis of the defendant’s presence near the illegal substance. There must be evidence that actually connects him or her to the contraband.

How a constructive possession case proceeds and the evidentiary requirements will depend on whether or not the defendant had exclusive possession of the premises where the illegal substance or drug was located by police:

  • If the defendant has exclusive control, a jury may reasonably infer that he or she knew about the presence and character of the illegal substance, and thus had control over it.
  • If the defendant does not have exclusive control – often the case where drugs are found in a motor vehicle occupied by multiple individuals – then the above inference cannot be made unless it is supported by additional evidence, namely incriminating statements or circumstances that tend to bolster the inference.

Finally, under Connecticut law, there is no minimum threshold amount of an illegal substance that will invoke a violation of possession laws: residue and trace amounts count.


Referred to as possession with intent to sell, it is illegal to sell or distribute illegal substances, and the punishment for conviction can be particularly severe. As with possession, this is a specific intent crime, and the line between possession and sales is often based on circumstantial evidence and reasonable inferences that may be made. Consider:

  • An individual is found with a single bag containing crack cocaine and a crack pipe on his person. This would tend to point to the individual’s possession with the intent to personally consume the illegal substance.
  • The same individual is instead found in possession of a dozen individually packaged bags containing powder cocaine, a significant amount of cash in small increments, a cellular phone, and a pistol. The aggregate weight of all these pieces of evidence works together to establish not just mere possession but instead point to possession with intent to sell.

To convict an individual of possession with intent to sell, the State must prove possession of a narcotic substance with the intent to sell it. “Sales” are not restricted to the exchange of currency, but also include barters, exchanges, or gifts.

Possession Near Prohibited Locations

Beyond the general possession and sales laws, an individual cannot sell or possess with intent to sell an illegal substance within fifteen-hundred (1,500) feet of specifically enumerated types of property and locations. With respect to the first element, the statutory scheme with respect to possession and sales, as discussed above, largely applies. As for the second element, the State legislature has listed three classes of locations, dubbed “prohibited place[s],” that will constitute a violation of this statute:

  • Private and public schools, both elementary and secondary levels
  • Public housing projects
  • Licensed child daycare facilities readily identified as such.

Affirmative Defense: Drug Dependent Person

Connecticut law imposes specific penalties for the sale, distribution, possession, and trafficking of controlled substances by non-drug-dependent individuals. As such, a criminal defendant may assert, as a defense, that he or she has a drug dependency. It is the defendant’s burden to establish substance dependence, by a preponderance of the evidence, based on the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV’s criteria:

A maladaptive pattern of substance abuse, leading to clinically significant impairment or distress, as manifested by three (or more) of the following, occurring at any time in the same 12-month period:

  • Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
    • A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect
    • Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance
  • Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
    • The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance […]
    • The same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain the substance (e.g., visiting multiple doctors or driving long distances), use the substance (e.g., chain-smoking), or recover from its effects
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use
  • The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance (e.g., current cocaine use despite recognition of cocaine-induced depression, or continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcoholic consumption)…

Even if the defendant successfully asserts this defense, he or she will still be subject to the statutory penalties associated with the charges. However, drug dependency will be considered for sentencing purposes.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Law Attorney

Our attorneys have years of experience representing criminal law clients in the states of New York and Connecticut. With offices located in New York City and Westport, we strive to provide large firm service while maintaining the small firm attention and accountability you deserve.  us today for assistance with your divorce and custody questions. Call 212-682-5700 for our New York offices or 203-221-3100 for our Connecticut office.