Juvenile Drug Possession

Learn about the laws and penalties that apply if a juvenile is charged with drug possession.

A wide range of drugs, chemicals, and medications are controlled and regulated by both state and federal laws. Anyone who owns or possesses any of these controlled substances without a legally recognized reason can be charged with drug possession. Juvenile drug possession occurs whenever a person under the age of 18 knowingly controls a regulated drug or substance without a legal reason. Possessing illegal substances in this manner is a crime in all states, and one that can lead to harsh penalties for juveniles.

Adults who are caught with controlled substances are charged with a crime and have their cases handled in a regular trial court. Juveniles, however, are not usually charged with a crime in the same way. Instead, the case is handled in the juvenile court system, where (depending on the state), the case may be handled more informally, as explained in "Penalties," below.


Any juvenile who knowingly and without legal justification possesses a controlled or illegal substance can be charged with juvenile drug possession. These charges typically arise after, for example, a juvenile is pulled over by a police officer who then notices marijuana in the car, discovers drugs after searching the vehicle, or discovers drugs while interrogating the driver. While juveniles are often charged with this crime because they possess marijuana, methamphetamine, or other similar illegal drugs, possessing prescription drugs without a prescription can also lead to a drug possession charge. For example, it is not illegal for a juvenile to possess oxycontin if the juvenile has a prescription from a physician. However, if the juvenile's friend takes a couple of pills from the bottle, the friend is guilty of juvenile drug possession.


To be convicted of drug possession, a juvenile must knowingly possess or control the prohibited substance. However, that doesn't mean that simply saying "I didn't know it was there," will be enough to avoid a conviction. A prosecutor can prove that you knew the drugs were in your possession or control from the circumstances of the case. For example, if you are pulled over and the police find marijuana in your backpack, the circumstances of the situation would likely be enough for court to conclude that you knew the drugs were there.


To be convicted of possessing drugs, a prosecutor does not have to show that the juvenile was actually holding the drugs, or had them in a pocket or somewhere else on his or her body. It's enough for prosecutor to show that the juvenile had control over the area where the drugs were discovered. For example, a drug possession charge can arise after a police officer pulls over a juvenile in his or her car and discovers drugs in the glove compartment or trunk. Juveniles who have drugs located in their rooms, school lockers, or other areas over which they have control can also be charged with this crime.


Anytime a juvenile is charged with a drug possession violation, that juvenile faces some potentially serious consequences. However, the juvenile justice process is very different than the criminal justice process. Even though the crime of drug possession is the same for juveniles and adults, the way the courts handle a juvenile case is very different. Juvenile courts have a much wider range of options when dealing with a juvenile offender than they would if the offender had been an adult.

  • Drug counseling. Juvenile courts typically focus on rehabilitating young people. Because of this, a juvenile court can order the juvenile offender, as well as his or her parents, to attend drug counseling in hopes of rehabilitating the teen.
  • Probation. Juveniles may also be placed on probation for drug possession. When a court orders probation, it orders the juvenile to comply with some specific terms. For example, the court will likely order the child to attend school regularly, maintain a job or find a job if the teen is old enough, participate in drug counseling or family counseling, perform community service, or a range of other requirements. The court may also order the juvenile to regularly report to a juvenile probation officer or court officer, though this is not always the case. Probation lasts typically at least six months, but longer terms are also possible
  • Diversion. Diversion, also known as pretrial diversion or informal probation, is also a common consequence for juvenile drug possession offenders. Just as with probation, a juvenile on diversion must comply with specific court rules. However, instead of the court ordering probation, the juvenile is allowed to comply with the diversion orders without having to formally go before the juvenile court. If the juvenile successfully completes the diversion program, the charges are essentially dismissed. However, not all jurisdictions allow for juvenile diversion programs and it is usually available for first-time offenders only.
  • Detention. In rare cases a court can order a juvenile into detention for drug possession. Detention can involve home confinement, placement with a foster family or guardian, placement with a juvenile home, or placement in a juvenile detention center. Drug possession cases do not typically result in detention unless the juvenile is a repeat offender or other factors are present, such as if the drug possession occurred as the result of robbery or violent crime.

Speak to an Attorney

Being charged with drug possession as a juvenile is always significant. Many juvenile courts view drug possession as a serious situation, and one that could result in harsh penalties. A drug possession charge could make your life very difficult and ruin your chances at a quality education, entering the military, or participating in school sports or activities.

You need to speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area if you are charged with a juvenile drug possession crime. Whether you are a juvenile, or the juvenile's parent or guardian, understand that only a local criminal defense attorney is qualified to give you advice about your case. Juvenile drug possession cases often hinge upon whether the police acted properly during their search or confiscation of the drugs. An experienced defense attorney will be able to review the facts of the case and determine if the search and seizure was legal. Local attorneys will also have experience dealing with the local juvenile justice system, know the juvenile prosecutors and judges, and can protect your rights at every stage of the juvenile justice process.

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