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New York Penal Code Section 220 03 Criminal Possession Controlled Substance Seventh Degree

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

Last Updated on: 15th October 2023, 01:29 pm

New York Penal Code Section 220.03: Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree

New York Penal Law Section 220.03 makes it illegal to knowingly and unlawfully possess a controlled substance in New York. This article provides an overview of the law, defenses, penalties, and related issues.

What the Law States

Section 220.03 states that a person is guilty of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree when they knowingly and unlawfully possess a controlled substance[1].

However, there are two exceptions:

  • It is not a violation if the person possesses only a residual amount of a controlled substance in a legally obtained hypodermic syringe or needle[1].
  • It is not a violation if the person’s unlawful possession is discovered because they sought medical assistance for themselves or someone else experiencing a drug overdose or other life-threatening emergency[1].

Seventh degree criminal possession is a Class A misdemeanor[1].

Elements of the Crime

To convict someone under this law, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt[2][3][4]:

  1. The defendant possessed a controlled substance.
  2. The defendant did so knowingly.
  3. The defendant did so unlawfully.
  4. The possession does not fall under either of the exceptions.

Controlled Substance

A “controlled substance” refers to any drug listed in the New York Public Health Law schedules of controlled substances[5]. This includes illegal drugs like heroin, cocaine, LSD, and marijuana. It also includes many prescription medications if possessed without a valid prescription.


“Knowingly” means being aware that one is in possession of the substance[4]. The prosecution does not need to prove the defendant knew the exact nature of the drug, only that they knew they possessed some controlled substance[3].


“Unlawfully” means lacking a legal right to possess the substance[4]. With few exceptions, it is illegal in New York to possess controlled substances without a valid prescription[5].


The exceptions provide limited legal protections for drug users seeking medical assistance during an overdose. The defendant can raise these as complete defenses to avoid conviction[1].


Seventh degree criminal possession is the lowest level drug offense under New York law. Conviction carries up to 1 year in jail and/or a fine up to $1,000[1][3].

While a misdemeanor, a drug conviction still creates a permanent criminal record. This can impact future employment, housing, and other opportunities. Immigrants may face deportation consequences.

First-time offenders sometimes receive no jail time. But those with a prior record often face harsher sentences. Much depends on the judge’s discretion.


Several legal defenses may apply in seventh degree drug possession cases[6]:

  • No possession: The drugs belonged to someone else. Mere proximity does not prove possession.
  • Lack of knowledge: The defendant did not know the substance was present or illegal. For example, someone slipped drugs into their bag without consent.
  • Legal possession: The defendant had a valid prescription or other right to legally possess the substance.
  • Medical assistance: The drugs were discovered because the defendant sought medical help for an overdose victim.
  • Invalid search: The police performed an illegal search violating the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. Any evidence obtained may be suppressed.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the facts and determine if any defenses apply.

Higher levels of drug possession are felonies under New York law[3]:

  • Fifth degree: Possessing drugs with intent to sell
  • Fourth degree: Possessing at least 1/8 ounce of substances containing narcotics
  • Third degree: Possessing at least 1/2 ounce of narcotics with intent to sell
  • Second degree: Possessing at least 4 ounces of narcotics
  • First degree: Possessing at least 8 ounces of narcotics

Sentences grow increasingly severe from misdemeanors to low-level felonies to violent felonies.

While seventh degree possession seems minor, conviction still produces life-long consequences. Anyone charged with this offense or other drug crimes should consult an experienced New York criminal defense lawyer immediately. A lawyer can often negotiate reduced charges or dismissal through plea bargains or assert strong defenses at trial. Don’t wait to act if facing drug charges.


  1. New York Consolidated Laws, Penal Law – PEN § 220.03.
  2. New York Criminal Jury Instructions, 2nd Edition.
  3. New York Penal Code Section 220.03: Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree.
  4. New York Criminal Jury Instructions, 2nd Edition.
  5. New York Public Health Law, Article 33, Title 1.
  6. Criminal Defense of New York Penal Law 220.03 Charges.

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