Published in Criminal Law by Chris Eskew on May 10, 2023.

The role of intent in drug offense cases in Indiana

Drug offense cases in Indiana are serious, with penalties ranging from fines and community service to long-term imprisonment. One crucial factor in these cases is the role of intent, which can significantly impact the outcome of a trial. In this blog, we will discuss the significance of intent in drug crime cases in Indiana.

What Is Intent?

Intent is an essential element in determining whether an individual committed a crime. In drug crime cases, intent refers to a defendant’s purpose or knowledge when committing the crime. Specifically, it is whether the defendant intended to possess or distribute illegal drugs. Intent is a critical component of drug crimes because it distinguishes between individuals who made an innocent mistake and those who intentionally broke the law.

Indiana Drug Crimes and Intent


In Indiana, drug laws require intent. For simple possession, the prosecutor must prove that you had the drugs on your person with the intent to possess them. This is called actual possession. However, if the drugs are not on your person, the State can still charge you with possession if you had knowledge of and control over the drugs with the intent to possess them. This is called constructive possession. For instance, if you are in your living room when the police arrive but they find drugs in your bedroom—you can still be charged with possession as long as the prosecutor can establish that you had knowledge of and control over them.

Intent to Distribute

Your intention while possessing drugs can also make the difference between a less serious and a more serious charge. Simple possession, as described above, is a less severe charge with lesser penalties than possession with the intent to distribute. But to prove such allegations, the prosecutor must prove that you intended to sell or distribute drugs and not just possess them for personal use. Let’s look at this in a bit more detail.

Requisite Intent for Possession with the Intent to Distribute

As stated, possession with intent to distribute is a serious drug crime offense with severe penalties. The intent to distribute means you intend to sell or give the illegal drug to someone else. The prosecutor can establish intent through various means, such as the amount of drugs found, the presence of packaging materials, the defendant’s statements, or the defendant’s actions indicating a willingness to sell the drugs.

Specifically, according to Indiana statute, it is a crime to manufacture, distribute, deliver, or possess with the intent to manufacture, distribute, or deliver a substance represented as a controlled substance. This means that the prosecution must prove that you had the specific intent to manufacture, distribute, or deliver a substance that you knew or believed to be a controlled substance.

If you did not intend to manufacture, distribute, or deliver a controlled substance, a jury should not convict you of this crime. However, even if the substance in question is not controlled, a jury could still convict you if you intended to manufacture, distribute, or deliver something you believed to be a controlled substance.

The role of intent is essential in determining whether a defendant is guilty of this offense. To be charged with possession with intent to distribute, a prosecutor must prove that the defendant knowingly or intentionally possessed an illegal drug intending to distribute or sell it.

Potential Penalties

How Intent Impacts Penalties

Indiana divides the penalties for drug crimes into five classes of felonies, with the most serious being a Level 1 felony. The length of imprisonment and fines for each class of felony increases as the level of the offense increases.

Intent can significantly impact a defendant’s sentence if found guilty. The penalties can be unforgiving if a defendant is found guilty of possession with intent to distribute. The severity of the sentence depends on various factors, such as the type and quantity of drugs involved, the defendant’s criminal history, and whether a minor was involved. For example, Possession with Intent to Distribute more than 10 grams of cocaine or methamphetamine is a Level 2 felony, which carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

The stakes are high if you are facing drug crime charges in Indiana. With so much on the line, it is crucial to seek the help of an experienced drug lawyer who can help you defend your rights and build a strong defense.

Defenses to Cast Doubt on Defendant’s Intent

There are many potential defenses to drug charges. Some of those defenses focus on casting doubt on your intent. If the state cannot prove you had the requisite intent to commit the crime charged, they cannot prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. In a drug case, there are several ways to cast doubt on your intent. Let’s discuss some strategies that defense lawyers might use to challenge the prosecution’s case and argue against intent.

Lack of Knowledge

The defense can argue that you were unaware that the substance you were manufacturing, distributing, delivering, or possessing was a controlled substance. For example, someone else may have given you the substance, and you might not have known what it was.

Lack of Mental Capacity

The defense can argue that you lacked the mental capacity required to form the intent to commit a drug crime. For example, you might have a mental illness or disability that impairs your ability to understand the consequences of your actions.

Lack of Specific Intent

The defense can argue that you did not have the specific intent to manufacture, distribute, or provide the drug and that you only possessed it for personal use.

In summary, casting doubt on the intent factor of a drug charge involves challenging the prosecution’s evidence and presenting alternative explanations for the defendant’s actions. An attorney can help develop a strategy for challenging intent based on the case’s facts.

Contact Today Our Attorneys at Eskew Law 

The role of intent in drug crime cases in Indiana and across the country is crucial. The case falls apart if the prosecutor cannot prove the intent element. At Eskew Law, our top priority is strategizing a defense tailored to you. Let our team protect your freedom, rights, and reputation. Contact us to schedule a confidential consultation.  

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Chris Eskew

Chris Eskew is the founding partner of Eskew Law. With over 15 years of experience, he focuses his practice on criminal defense, DUI defense, and family law. Chris is known for his dedication to his clients, his strong advocacy skills, and his commitment to achieving the best possible outcomes in legal matters. He is well-respected within the legal community and has earned a reputation for providing personalized and effective representation.