The answer varies by state in the US. The penalty for heroin possession alone (and that can mean just having it in your system) max out at one year and $5,000 fine (Source: http://www.legalmatch.com/law-library/article/heroin-state-and-federal-p...)
If there are no other considerations, it is likely that a "first timer" will be offered treatment and probation rather than actual time in jail. Whether this happens or not depends on other factors:
Was there another crime along with it?
Was there involvement of a child?
Was there a weapon?
Is the person otherwise a good citizen?
The best advice is to have a lawyer negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf. They can evaluate the evidence against you and advise about the best course of action.
Technically it's not crime to have used heroin. Or to be a heroin user. Possession however IS a crime, and that's what Bill refers to.
Nikki is correct. While there might be social or employment consequences because of the stigma attached, it is not illegal if we are only talking about history. So, for instance, if you need to take someone to the ER for a heroin overdose, the fact that they have used heroin shouldn't stand in the way. In some situations, you may be fired for testing positive for heroin, but you will not be arrested. Also, there are no legal consequences to seeking treatment for a heroin addiction.
All the previous answers are correct except for the fact that while legally it is not against the law to have used heroin it is illegal to be under the influence of heroin or any other illegal drug or in some cases legal drug while in public or most other places for that matter that don't involve your own property as long as it is not a place for public use. In essence if you are under the influence of heroin or even a legitimate pain medication prescribed by your doctor, if you show signs of impairment, even if not operating a motor vehicle, you will likely be arrested. Now according to California Criminal Jury Instructions - 2966. Elements. Pen. Code, ? 647(f). Disorderly Conduct: Under the Influence in Public
The defendant is charged [in Count ______] with being under the influence of (alcohol/ [and/or] a drug) in public.
To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:
1. The defendant was willfully under the influence of (alcohol[,]/ [and/or] a drug[,]/ [and/or] a controlled substance[,]/ [and/or] toluene);
2. When the defendant was under the influence, (he/she) was in a public place;
[3. The defendant was unable to exercise care for (his/her) own safety [or the safety of others].]
[3. Because the defendant was under the influence, (he/she) interfered with, obstructed, or prevented the free use of a street, sidewalk, or other public way.]
Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose.
As used here, a public place is a place that is open and accessible to anyone who wishes to go there. While I only know CA law on this matter I suspect many other states are alike on these laws. Therefore you will be arrested for being on heroin.
As for the penalties if it is possession, check out answer #1, if it is under the influence it is going to also be a misdemeanor, max 1 year, and usually around the same max fine. Yet first time, you will likely be offered a diversion type program which will include drug addiction classes and random testing from 15 to around 22 weeks, the latter if you fail a test and are moved to level II. Upon successful completion your record will be wiped clean.
As for a second arrest, there will likely be jail time or a more stringent diversion program such as Proposition 36 in CA. Hope this helps answer your question, for more question regarding this matter or for free legal information on all addiction related crimes, please see Addicts Helping Addicts, Free Legal Q&A at http://www.drugaddictionhelponline.com/law/legal-info-request/
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