All states, including Wyoming, regulate the possession of controlled substances, though each differs in its exact scheduling of drugs and the penalties for illegal possession. This article discusses Wyoming's laws on illegal possession of controlled substances for personal use only. Drug sales and possession with intent to sell carry harsher penalties.
Wyoming divides controlled substances into five schedules—Schedules I to V. Schedule I drugs are considered the most dangerous and highly addictive, while Schedule V drugs are the least dangerous and the least addictive. Below are examples of drugs placed into each schedule.
Schedule III includes drugs such as pentobarbital, ketamine, anabolic steroids, and buprenorphine.
Schedule IV includes drugs such as barbital, diazepam (Valium), flunitrazepam (Rohypnol), lorazepam (Ativan), and tramadol.
Schedule V includes therapeutic medicines containing low amounts of codeine or other narcotics combined with non-narcotic active ingredients.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 35-7-1014, -1016, -1018, -1020, -1022 (2023).)
It's a crime to unlawfully possess a controlled substance in Wyoming. Most first- and second-time drug possession and use offenses are misdemeanors, unless the amount of drugs exceeds the statutory threshold. Repeat offenses (third+) and offenses involving larger amounts of drugs are often felonies.
Penalties for drug offenses vary depending on the type and amount of drug. Wyoming sets a threshold amount based on the drug or drug form, as follows:
It's a misdemeanor to possess no more than the threshold amounts listed above for a Schedule I, II, III, or IV drug. Third and subsequent offenses of this type are felonies.
A misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The felony penalty incurs a fine of up to $5,000, up to 5 years in prison, or both.
A person who possesses more than the statutory thresholds listed above faces the following maximum felony penalties:
Possessing any amount of a Schedule V drug without a valid prescription is a misdemeanor. A conviction can mean up to a year of jail time and a $1,000 fine.
A person who intentionally uses or is under the influence of a Schedule I, II, or III drug, except when taken as prescribed, can be charged with a misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is up to six months in jail and a $750 fine.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 35-7-1031(c), 35-7-1039 (2023).)
It depends. Wyoming offers several sentencing alternatives that may avoid jail time and, sometimes, a conviction. First-time offenders generally qualify, but these alternatives hinge on compliance with the court's terms. And, for the most part, these alternatives are one-time deals. For instance, a defendant gets one shot at discharge and dismissal.
A person who's found guilty of, or pleads guilty to, a misdemeanor or felony drug possession may qualify for discharge and dismissal. The person can't have any prior felony convictions or have previously received a discharge and dismissal. Under this program, the court holds off on entering a conviction and instead places the defendant on probation (for up to three years). If successful on probation and in rehabilitation, the court can discharge the person and dismiss the case, meaning there's no conviction.
(Wyo. Stat. § 7-13-301 (2023).)
First-time drug charges for possession or use might receive probation and discharge under a separate drug-related statute. Similar to the program described above, the court enters a guilty verdict or plea but holds off on entering a conviction. The court places the defendant on probation and will discharge and dismiss the proceedings if the defendant successfully completes probation. This opportunity is also a one-time deal.
(Wyo. Stat. § 35-7-1037 (2023).)
A court may suspend the prison sentence of a qualified felony offender who needs substance abuse treatment—on the condition that the person undergo and complete treatment. On a monthly or more frequent basis, the treatment provider must report the person's progress to the court, prosecutor, defense attorney, and probation officer. This option doesn't avoid a conviction but does provide a defendant with an opportunity for treatment and might avoid incarceration.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 7-13-1301 and following (2023).)
Wyoming created a statewide 24/7 sobriety program that can be used as a condition of a suspended sentence or probation in certain drug cases. It requires a person to submit to urine analysis tests or wear drug patches and report to designated centers for repeat testing. A participant who fails or doesn't show up for a test can be arrested and taken into custody for a court appearance.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 7-13-1701, -1708, -1709 (2023).)
Certain counties in Wyoming have court-supervised treatment (CST) courts, including drug courts. Drug court doesn't avoid a conviction, but it offers intensive supervision and support to offenders suffering from addiction. Drug courts are run by a team of professionals, including judges, attorneys, probation officers, and treatment providers, who work together to aid in the defendant's recovery. A defendant will face both sanctions and incentives as part of the program.
(Wyo. Stat. §§ 7-13-1601 and following (2023).)
Defendants facing controlled substance charges have several defense strategies available to them.
Actual innocence. Defendants charged with a drug-related crime have the usual defenses available to all criminal defendants, such as "Someone else committed this crime," or "the alleged conduct did not occur."
Lack of knowledge. Defendants can try to show the jury that they did not know the controlled substance was in their possession. For example, if a hitchhiker gets a ride from a passing car and the police locate a bag of cocaine under the hitchhiker's seat, the defense will argue the defendant did not know the bag was hidden under their seat.
Unlawful search and seizure. A common defense in drug possession cases includes asking the court to exclude evidence of the drugs at trial based on an unlawful search or seizure by police. Without evidence of the drugs, a prosecutor's case might fall apart, resulting in a reduction of charges or a dismissal altogether. Defense teams do this by scrutinizing and calling out faulty or suspect police methods used in gathering or handling the evidence.
If you've been charged with a drug-related offense in Wyoming, contact a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. An experienced lawyer will discuss the circumstances unique to your situation, formulate possible defenses, and protect your constitutional rights. You might also want to ask your lawyer about sentencing alternatives, such as deferred prosecution. The terms of these probation-type programs can be onerous, so it's good to know what is exactly expected of a participant.