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New York Penal Code 220 43 Criminal Sale Controlled Substance First Degree

By Spodek Law Group | July 17, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 15, 2023)

Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 01:14 pm

New York Penal Code 220.43: Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree

New York Penal Law 220.43 makes it a crime to sell large quantities of illegal narcotics. This section targets drug dealers and traffickers by imposing severe penalties for the sale of 2+ ounces of narcotics or 2,880+ milligrams of methadone. Let’s break down this law and what it means.

The Law

Under NY Penal Law 220.43, a person is guilty of criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree when he or she knowingly and unlawfully sells:

  • One or more preparations, compounds, mixtures or substances containing a narcotic drug that weighs two ounces or more in total; or
  • 2,880 milligrams or more of methadone

Criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree is a Class A-I felony, the most serious felony category in New York.

Key Elements of the Crime

To be convicted under this statute, prosecutors must prove these key elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

1. Knowing and Unlawful Sale

The defendant must have knowingly and unlawfully sold the narcotics. This means they must have been aware they were selling drugs and had no legal right to do so.

2. Type of Drug Sold

The substance sold must have been either:

  • A narcotic drug like heroin, cocaine, oxycodone etc.
  • OR
  • Methadone

3. Weight of the Drugs

For narcotic drugs, the total weight must be 2+ ounces. For methadone, the weight must be 2,880+ milligrams. Even a few grams under this threshold prevents a first-degree sale charge.


Criminal sale of a controlled substance in the first degree is the most severe drug sale charge in NY. Penalties include:

  • Prison: Minimum 15-25 years, maximum life
  • Fines: Up to $100,000
  • Asset Forfeiture: Any property connected to the crime can be seized
  • Criminal Record: Lifelong felony record impacting jobs, housing etc.


Some potential defenses to first-degree criminal sale charges include:

  • Lack of intent: The drugs were not intentionally sold, e.g. they were stolen or taken without consent.
  • Entrapment: Law enforcement pressured the defendant into committing a crime they wouldn’t have otherwise.
  • Misidentification: The defendant was mistakenly identified and did not actually sell the drugs.
  • Illegal search: The drugs were discovered through an unconstitutional search, making them inadmissible.
  • Weight dispute: The drugs were under the weight threshold for a first-degree charge.

An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate the details of your case and build the strongest defense strategy.

Lower-level drug sale charges in New York include:

  • Second Degree (A-II Felony): Selling 1/2+ ounce of narcotics or 5+ grams of stimulants/hallucinogens.
  • Third Degree (B Felony): Selling any amount of narcotics, 1+ gram of stimulants, or psychedelics.
  • Fourth Degree (C Felony): Selling narcotic preparations like cough syrup with codeine.
  • Fifth Degree (D Felony): Selling any controlled substance.

Case Examples

  • People v. Sierra – Defendant convicted of first-degree sale for selling 6 ounces of heroin to an undercover officer. Sentenced to 15 years to life.
  • People v. Jackson – Police found defendant with 3,500 mg of methadone and $2,000 cash after a controlled buy. Convicted and sentenced to 20 years to life.
  • People v. Kim – Defendant caught selling 2.5 ounces of cocaine to an informant. Argued he was entrapped. Convicted but sentenced below minimum after entrapment considered.

Consequences of a Conviction

A conviction under NY Penal Law 220.43 can completely devastate a person’s life. Beyond a long mandatory prison sentence, consequences include:

  • Felony record: Difficulty finding jobs, renting apartments, getting loans etc.
  • Loss of rights: Voting rights, gun ownership rights, and certain professional licenses revoked.
  • Immigration issues: Possible deportation for non-citizens, ineligibility for citizenship.
  • Family separation: Loss of custody or visitation rights for children.
  • Parole supervision: Strict conditions like curfews, drug testing, and restrictions on movement and associations. Violations lead to re-incarceration.

Avoiding First-Degree Charges

If arrested for selling drugs, it’s critical to avoid the huge penalties of a first-degree conviction. Strategies include:

  • Avoid police: Use extreme caution when engaging in illegal activities to avoid police surveillance and stings.
  • Minimize quantities: Never possess or sell weight amounts that could trigger first-degree charges.
  • Cooperate: Providing substantial assistance to police and prosecutors can lead to reduced charges.
  • Hire an attorney: An experienced lawyer may be able to get charges reduced or dismissed through negotiation or litigation.


New York Penal Law 220.43 imposes some of the harshest penalties possible for drug trafficking offenses. Selling just over 2 ounces of narcotics or 2,880 mg of methadone leads to mandatory minimum prison sentences of 15-25 years up to life in prison. Defendants face the permanent loss of rights and freedoms that accompany felony convictions. Anyone charged under this statute needs an aggressive defense lawyer to try to avoid or minimize these severe consequences. But the best strategy is simply avoiding large-scale drug sales entirely.

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