If you are stopped by the police and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, it is important to understand the consequences of your arrest. While possession of drug paraphernalia is considered a civil offense in South Carolina (rather than a crime), your charge can still show up on your South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) record, and this can have consequences far beyond the fines imposed under state law. Additionally, in some situations, possession of drug paraphernalia can be used as evidence of intent to manufacture, and in these cases defending against allegations of possessing paraphernalia can be critical to avoiding a conviction for a serious criminal offense.

What is Drug Paraphernalia?

Under Section 44-53-110(33) of the South Carolina Code of Laws, drug “paraphernalia” is defined as, “any instrument, device, article, or contrivance used, designed for use, or intended for use in ingesting, smoking, administering, manufacturing, or preparing a controlled substance.” The only exceptions are cigarette papers and tobacco pipes, which adults can legally possess for purposes of smoking tobacco. Examples of items that qualify as drug paraphernalia, as listed in Section 44-53-110(33) include:

  • Metal, wooden, acrylic, glass, stone, plastic, or ceramic marijuana or hashish pipes with or without screens, permanent screens, hashish heads, or punctured metal bowls
  • Water pipes designed for use or intended for use with marijuana, hashish, hashish oil, or cocaine
  • Carburetion tubes and devices
  • Smoking and carburetion masks
  • Roach clips
  • Separation gins designed for use or intended for use in cleaning marijuana
  • Cocaine spoons and vials
  • Chamber pipes
  • Carburetor pipes
  • Electric pipes
  • Air-driven pipes
  • Chilams (or chillums)
  • Bongs
  • Ice pipes or chillers

South Carolina’s drug paraphernalia law applies to items used to inhale, inject, grow, make, prepare for sale, or otherwise use any type of illegal drug. This includes (but is not limited to) paraphernalia use with marijuana, cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, ecstasy, oxycodone, LSD, and PCP.

What Does South Carolina Law Say about Possession of Drug Paraphernalia?

In South Carolina, it is illegal to, “advertise for sale, manufacture, possess, sell or deliver, or to possess with the intent to deliver, or sell [drug] paraphernalia.” Basically, possessing drug paraphernalia for any purpose (or no purpose at all) is sufficient to establish culpability for a civil offense.

Importantly, an object can be classified as drug paraphernalia even if it is not intended for use in the administration, consumption, or manufacturing illegal drugs. Section 44-53-391(b) of the South Carolina Code of Laws states that factors judges can consider in deciding whether an object constitutes drug paraphernalia include:

  • Statements by the owner or anyone else in possession of the object
  • The proximity of the object to illegal drugs at the time of a stop or search
  • The existence of any drug residue on the object
  • Direct or circumstantial evidence of an owner’s or user’s intent
  • Instructions or descriptive materials provided with the object regarding its use
  • Advertising materials or displays depicting the object’s use
  • Whether the owner or anyone else in possession of the object is a legitimate supplier of the type of object in question
  • The existence and scope of any legitimate uses of the object in the community
  • Expert testimony concerning potential uses of the object

What are the Penalties for Possession of Drug Paraphernalia in South Carolina?

As a civil offense, possession of drug paraphernalia is only subject to a fine under South Carolina law. For individuals, this fine can be up to $500. For businesses, it can be up to $50,000. However, as noted above, a guilty verdict will still go on your SLED record; and, if you are being prosecuted for drug crimes in addition to the civil offense of possession of drug paraphernalia, you will need to be very careful to ensure that anything you say in your civil case does not have negative consequences for your criminal trial.

What are Some Potential Defenses to Possession of Drug Paraphernalia?

Depending on the specific object involved and the circumstances surrounding your arrest, there are a number of potential defenses to possession of drug paraphernalia in South Carolina. Some of these defenses include:

1. Medical Authorization

While South Carolina has not yet legalized medical marijuana, various other prescription medications must be stored and administered using objects that can also qualify as drug paraphernalia. If you have a prescription or other medical authorization that permits you to possess needles, syringes, or other items that can be used for the administration of illegal drugs, this may provide a defense under Section 44-53-391(b) of the South Carolina Code of Laws.

2. Lack of Possession or Control

If you were charged with possession of drug paraphernalia because the police found paraphernalia in your vicinity, then you may be able to defend yourself by arguing a lack of possession or control. Basically, this is the, “It wasn’t mine,” defense. Since the state has the burden of proof, if you can raise a legitimate question as to whether the paraphernalia was yours, this can be enough to protect you against a guilty verdict, fine, and SLED record.

3. Lack of Knowledge

If you were unaware that the item you possessed was capable of being used for illegal drug-related purposes, this can provide a defense to civil culpability. Similarly, if you did not know that you were in possession of drug paraphernalia (for example, if someone else slipped it in your pocket so that he or she could avoid getting arrested), this can provide a defense as well.

4. Unlawful Search or Seizure and Other Police Mistakes

Did the police search your home without a warrant? Did they stop you on the street without reasonable suspicion or search your car or clothes without probable cause? If the police made mistakes during your stop or arrest, these mistakes can provide a defense even if you were unlawfully in possession of drug paraphernalia.

Contact North Charleston Defense Attorney Rad Deaton

Are you facing a drug paraphernalia charge in the North Charleston area? If so, defense attorney Rad Deaton can help. For a free and confidential consultation, call 843-225-5723 or request an appointment online now.