Skip links

Possession of a Controlled Substance Attorney

Last Modified: March 18, 2024

In Las Vegas, possession of a controlled substance is one of the most common illegal drug felony charges. While the city is known for its wild side, Nevada has some of the toughest laws of all the states regarding drug crimes.

Other states might charge possession as a misdemeanor, but if you’re in Nevada and booked on possession of a controlled substance, it’s a felony, so you’ll want a controlled substance lawyer on your side. The experienced team at Spartacus Criminal Defense Lawyers will help you fight these serious drug allegations.

Only a criminal defense lawyer in Las Vegas can ensure you have the representation you need. Most visitors are surprised when their fun night on the town turns out to have serious repercussions. Even in small amounts, possession of cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana can lead to prison, fines, and all the ramifications of a felony conviction.

Don’t let a night of fun turn into a felony on your record that makes you ineligible for certain jobs or government funding and tarnishes your reputation. Get the representation you need from a controlled substance attorney in Las Vegas with Spartacus Criminal Defense Lawyers.

What Does Possession of a Controlled Substance Mean?

According to Nev. Rev. Stat. § 453.336, “A person shall not knowingly or intentionally possess a controlled substance, unless the substance was obtained directly from, or pursuant to, a prescription or order of a physician, physician assistant licensed pursuant to chapter 630 or 633 of NRS, dentist, podiatric physician, optometrist, advanced practice registered nurse or veterinarian while acting in the course of his or her professional practice.”

Nevada is extremely strict about controlled substances and includes prescription pills with chemicals, street drugs, natural substances, and man-made substances. For example, prescriptions like Adderall or Ambien are on the list alongside hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, MDMA, methamphetamines, and LSD.

In this state, the prosecutor must be able to show that you had actual or constructive possession of the substance in question to convict you.

Proving Actual and Constructive Possession

Since the state prosecutor must demonstrate that you had actual or constructive possession of one of these substances, they are required to prove this beyond reasonable doubt to make a conviction. If they can’t show this, then the charges will either be reduced or dismissed.

These terms can get a bit confusing, but when they refer to actual possession, this means it is physically on your person such as in a pocket or a bag. Constructive possession is more difficult to prove because it hinges on three key factors.

For a conviction of constructive possession, the prosecution must prove that you were aware that this substance was in your presence and that it was illegal. Additionally, they must prove that you had the intent to possess it when you took actual possession of the substance.

Often, this happens when someone is a passenger in a car that gets pulled over. When the police search the vehicle and find drugs, it may be something they will try to prosecute.

Las Vegas Criminal Defense ATTORNEY

What Are the Penalties for Possession of a Controlled Substance in Las Vegas?

If you are arrested for possession of a controlled substance in Las Vegas, you do not want to fight on your own because the conviction has serious consequences. Only an experienced criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the courts. Let Spartacus Criminal Defense Lawyers aggressively challenge the prosecution on your behalf.

You don’t want to risk being punished to the maximum for drug possession in this state. The degree of your punishment will depend on the substance and the schedule in which it is classified. It will also depend on the weight of the substance and whether you may have been committing something more serious like drug trafficking. Additionally, if you have had any previous drug convictions, it will affect the outcome.

First and Second Offenses

If this is your first or second offense and the substance you had in your possession was in schedule I, II, III, or IV, you could be convicted of a category E felony. This comes with a prison term that ranges from one to four years, plus a fine of up to $5,000.

Third Offenses or More

Should you be charged with a third offense or more, it is considered a category D felony. You will likely receive one to four years of mandatory prison sentencing and fines of up to $20,000.

Las Vegas Drug Court

Even though drug crimes are taken very seriously in Nevada, first-time, non-violent offenders may be granted a little leniency, particularly if they do not have a prior criminal record. With the help of Spartacus Criminal Defense Lawyers, you may be able to complete Drug Court, requiring you to acknowledge your mistakes and want to move in a better direction in your life. 

While Drug Court is time-consuming, you can get a clean criminal record in this process. However, even if your charges are dismissed with the successful completion of this alternative option, your conviction will still count should you acquire a second or subsequent offense. If you have the chance to go with this option, it is far better than serving time, though it is usually through an experienced Las Vegas drug crime lawyer that you can have this choice. 

There are Drug Court programs for adults that provide a minimum of a one-year court-supervised inpatient and outpatient substance abuse treatment program. There are options for juvenile offenders as well. 

Hire a Las Vegas Criminal Defense Lawyer

Remember, prosecutors must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Only an experienced defense attorney can uncover the weaknesses in the state’s case against you. Call Spartacus Criminal Defense Lawyers today and get a consultation to find out how we can help you fight drug charges that threaten to tarnish your reputation.


Yes, a deferred judgment is a form of a plea deal, where you make a plea of “guilty” to criminal charges but then the guilty plea and conviction are suspended until you meet certain requirements within an allotted time frame set forth by the court. In the past, a district court erred because the defendant undisputedly pleaded guilty to a first-time violation of Nev. Rev. Stat. § 453.336(2)(a) and consented to deferral by his treatment election. Thus, the district court lacked discretion to decline to defer judgment. Locker v. State, 516 P.3d 149, 138 Nev. Adv. Rep. 62, 2022 Nev. LEXIS 59 (Nev. 2022).

Where defendant pleaded guilty to a first-time violation of Nev. Rev. Stat. § 453.336(2)(a) and consented to deferral by his treatment election, Nev. Rev. Stat. § 176.211(1) was not applicable as its plain language gives the court discretion to defer judgment for offenses not specifically identified elsewhere in the statute and § 176.211(3)(a)(1) targets a specific drug-possession offense, excluding the application of § 176.211(1) to defendant’s plea. Locker v. State, 516 P.3d 149, 138 Nev. Adv. Rep. 62, 2022 Nev. LEXIS 59 (Nev. 2022).

Conviction for both sale and possession of controlled substance arising out of identical transaction was improper. Fairman v. State, 83 Nev. 137, 425 P.2d 342, 1967 Nev. LEXIS 243 (Nev. 1967). (Decision under former similar statutes).

But defendant could be convicted of both possession and sale of controlled substance if he sold a portion of the substance, consumed a portion, and kept the remainder. Talancon v. State, 97 Nev. 12, 621 P.2d 1111, 1981 Nev. LEXIS 414 (Nev. 1981).

Knowledge by accused of narcotic character of article is essential element of crime; thus, evidence of a prior sale of heroin by a defendant who was being prosecuted for unlawful possession of heroin was probative to establish his guilty knowledge. Overton v. State, 78 Nev. 198, 370 P.2d 677, 1962 Nev. LEXIS 115 (Nev. 1962). (Decision under former similar statute).

Possession of controlled substance may be actual or constructive; the accused has constructive possession only if she maintains control or a right to control the contraband. Possession of a controlled substance may be imputed when the contraband is found in a location which is immediately and exclusively accessible to the accused and subject to her dominion and control; even if the accused does not have exclusive control of the hiding place possession may be imputed if she has not abandoned the narcotic and no other person has obtained possession. The accused is also deemed to have the same possession as any person actually possessing the narcotic pursuant to her direction or permission where she retains the right to exercise dominion or control over the property. Glispey v. Sheriff, Carson City, 89 Nev. 221, 510 P.2d 623, 1973 Nev. LEXIS 475 (Nev. 1973).

Discretionary probation is not the equivalent of a sentencing enhancement under this section and, accordingly, the state was not required to give defendant, who pled guilty to a first-offense of possession to a controlled substance, formal notice in the charging document that probation was discretionary rather than mandatory under NRS 176A.100(1)(b); the holding in Lewis v. State, to the contrary was inapposite. Roberts v. State, 120 Nev. 300, 89 P.3d 998, 120 Nev. Adv. Rep. 34, 2004 Nev. LEXIS 38 (Nev. 2004).

A person has constructive possession of a controlled substance only if the person maintains control or a right to control the contraband. Sheriff, Washoe County v. Shade, 109 Nev. 826, 858 P.2d 840, 109 Nev. Adv. Rep. 126, 1993 Nev. LEXIS 132 (Nev. 1993), app. dismissed, 110 Nev. 57, 867 P.2d 393, 110 Nev. Adv. Rep. 9, 1994 Nev. LEXIS 7 (Nev. 1994).

Dominion and control is a necessary element of possession. The defendant’s mere presence in the area where the narcotic is discovered or mere association with the person who does control the drug or the property where it is located is insufficient to support a finding of possession; proof that the defendant exercised dominion and control over the contraband is required to support a possession charge. Konold v. Sheriff, Clark County, 94 Nev. 289, 579 P.2d 768, 1978 Nev. LEXIS 544 (Nev. 1978).

Where the only probative or demonstrable evidence of record, suggesting that marijuana even existed in proximity to a defendant, were three photographs which a police officer took showing a plant growing in the defendant’s father’s garden, the evidence was insufficient to hold him for trial for possession of marijuana. Hammond v. Sheriff, Mineral County, 91 Nev. 176, 532 P.2d 1030, 1975 Nev. LEXIS 579 (Nev. 1975).

Evidence was insufficient to establish that defendant exercised dominion and control over marijuana found in girlfriend’s home; defendant did not live at the residence, two other people had visited the residence on the night before defendant’s arrest, and the defendant’s girlfriend had pled guilty to possession of the marijuana at issue. McGervey v. State, 114 Nev. 460, 958 P.2d 1203, 114 Nev. Adv. Rep. 56, 1998 Nev. LEXIS 71 (Nev. 1998).

Even simple possession of cocaine in the requisite amount can subject a person to prosecution under the trafficking statute. Hillis v. State, 103 Nev. 531, 746 P.2d 1092, 1987 Nev. LEXIS 1907 (Nev. 1987), overruled in part, Adam v. State, 127 Nev. 601, 261 P.3d 1063, 127 Nev. Adv. Rep. 54, 2011 Nev. LEXIS 65 (Nev. 2011).

Evidence that the defendant and three other individuals were seen by a police officer heating an object over a small fire, using hypodermic syringes, two members of the group extracted a substance from the object in the fire and injected it into their arms, and when they were subsequently stopped and arrested two hypodermic syringes and a homemade “cooker” containing heroin residue were seized, was sufficient to create probable cause that the defendant possessed narcotics. Wolzok v. Sheriff, Clark County, 93 Nev. 47, 559 P.2d 820, 1977 Nev. LEXIS 463 (Nev. 1977).

When a chemist’s report is in evidence for the purpose of establishing probable cause, it is not mandatory for the actual contraband to be admitted as physical evidence at the preliminary examination. Faber v. Sheriff, Douglas County, 93 Nev. 642, 572 P.2d 524, 1977 Nev. LEXIS 652 (Nev. 1977).

Evidence indicating defendant was alone in his stepson’s car, cocaine and methamphetamine were immediately and exclusively accessible to the defendant and subject to his dominion and control, and testimony from the detectives suggesting that the drugs were in plain view, all supported a finding of probable cause that defendant committed the offenses of possession of cocaine and possession of methamphetamine. Sheriff, Washoe County v. Shade, 109 Nev. 826, 858 P.2d 840, 109 Nev. Adv. Rep. 126, 1993 Nev. LEXIS 132 (Nev. 1993), app. dismissed, 110 Nev. 57, 867 P.2d 393, 110 Nev. Adv. Rep. 9, 1994 Nev. LEXIS 7 (Nev. 1994).

In prosecution for possession and sale of marijuana and cocaine and conspiring to sell controlled substances, defendants’ contention that they were merely “purchasing agents” for an undercover police officer, and thus were immune from prosecution, was incorrect; such contention merely entitled the defendants to a “purchasing agent” instruction given to the jury, if the evidence did not foreclose it. Ursino v. Sheriff, Washoe County, 91 Nev. 409, 537 P.2d 316, 1975 Nev. LEXIS 655 (Nev. 1975).

In a prosecution for sale and possession of a controlled substance, contention that the court should have instructed the jury on the “purchasing agent” defense was without merit, because the purchasing agent defense is inapplicable to the crime of possession of a controlled substance. Buckley v. State, 95 Nev. 602, 600 P.2d 227, 1979 Nev. LEXIS 707 (Nev. 1979).

Prejudice from unsubstantiated allegations in sentencing report. 

An abuse of discretion was found when the defendant’s sentence was prejudiced from consideration of an unsubstantiated allegation contained in a pre-sentence report that the defendant was heavily involved in narcotics trafficking. Goodson v. State, 98 Nev. 493, 654 P.2d 1006, 1982 Nev. LEXIS 512 (Nev. 1982).

Unconstitutional search was conducted where, during a pat-down search following a routine traffic stop, the officer felt something small in defendant’s pocket with an open hand and immediately ruled out that the object was a knife, gun, dirk, dagger, or other hidden instrument for the assault of a police officer, but continued to palpate the object, changing his hand so as to feel the object with his fingertips, discovering that the item was a vial of the size and shape commonly used to contain contraband. State v. Conners, 116 Nev. 184, 994 P.2d 44, 116 Nev. Adv. Rep. 18, 2000 Nev. LEXIS 18 (Nev. 2000).

The district court properly granted a motion to suppress the evidence seized as a result of an illegal search on the grounds that a reasonable person would not have understood his general consent to search a car for drugs, alcohol or weapons would authorize the officer to remove screws and pry a panel from the vehicle. State v. Johnson, 116 Nev. 78, 993 P.2d 44, 116 Nev. Adv. Rep. 8, 2000 Nev. LEXIS 7 (Nev. 2000), overruled in part, State v. Ruscetta, 123 Nev. 299, 163 P.3d 451, 123 Nev. Adv. Rep. 32, 2007 Nev. LEXIS 39 (Nev. 2007).

Defendant’s conviction for possession of a controlled substance in violation of NRS § 453.336 was an aggravated felony under 8 USCS § 1101(a)(43)(B) because it was (1) punishable by the Controlled Substances Act, 21 USCS § 801 et seq., and (2) punishable by more than one year’s imprisonment under applicable state law. United States v. Arellano-Torres, 303 F.3d 1173, 2002 U.S. App. LEXIS 19179 (9th Cir. Nev. 2002), cert. denied, 538 U.S. 915, 123 S. Ct. 1502, 155 L. Ed. 2d 241, 2003 U.S. LEXIS 2116 (U.S. 2003).

Because possession of a controlled substance is a lesser-included offense of possession of a controlled substance for the purpose of sale, defendant could not be punished for both crimes; based on defendant’s criminal history, simple possession was the less severely punishable offense and, accordingly, that conviction was reversed. LaChance v. State, 130 Nev. 263, 321 P.3d 919, 130 Nev. Adv. Rep. 29, 2014 Nev. LEXIS 31 (Nev. 2014).

(702) 660-1234