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Steroids and the Law

By Rick Collins, J.D.

COPYRIGHT © 1999 by Rick Collins. All rights reserved. No commercial reproduction of any portion of this material is permitted without the express written permission of the author.

The below segment, entitled “Steroids and the Law� discusses the legalities of steroids and steroid use by athletes as well as others. As it states, each case is different, and there is no way of knowing the outcome of any steroid or human growth hormone case individually.

With the current shadow over anabolic steroids due to the infamous overuse and abuse of steroids in baseball and other sports as of late, we felt that this was a particularly important article for our audience.

DISCLAIMER: This material is for general informational purposes only, consistent with the legal profession’s obligation to educate the public, and should not be relied upon as legal advice. For advice, consult with a lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. This material is not intended to be advertising and this firm does not wish to represent anyone seeking representation based upon viewing this site in a state where this material fails to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state. Lastly, nothing in this material should be construed as intending to promote or encourage the illegal non-medical use of anabolic steroids. We advise against the use, possession or sale of any controlled substances in violation of the law.

Anabolic steroids are classified as controlled substances under U.S. federal law and the laws of many states. An alleged major East Coast distributor was recently arrested and a stockpile of anabolic pharmaceuticals was reportedly recovered pursuant to a search of his residence. Further police investigations are being conducted, and other athletes are being arrested. Since the non-medical possession or sale of anabolic steroids is illegal, strength athletes must not only consider the possible health risks but also the potential legal consequences of involvement. Many athletes who self-administer anabolics have no clue as to what might happen if they were to be caught by law enforcement. This article includes general information regarding what to do if a person is investigated or arrested in connection with steroids. Whether you are merely curious about anabolics or you are presently using and/or selling them, I invite you to carefully consider the material presented here. Perhaps you will choose to stay natural or become “drug-free” (always the safest bet, medically and legally!). If not, at least you will know the legal risks you are facing and what to do if you find yourself in the unfortunate and serious situation of an investigation or arrest. Obviously, the best time to read this material is before you are arrested.

Regarding my own background, I received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1981. After attending law school on a full academic scholarship, I served as a criminal prosecutor in New York from 1984 to 1989. Since then I have diligently defended the rights of people accused of activities classified as illegal, which in New York state and U.S. federal courts includes the possession and sale of anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, and certain other ergogenic aids. My law firm, Collins, McDonald & Gann, is a criminal defense firm with partners admitted to practice in the New York and Maryland state courts, the Federal Courts of the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Services and the United States Supreme Court. I am an officer or active member in numerous criminal bar associations and frequently lecture on criminal defense to groups of other attorneys. I have met with state legislators in Albany, New York, and members of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. to discuss how our laws may be improved. I have examined our anabolic steroid laws and I am familiar with the body of medical literature concerning these substances. I have spoken at length with numerous steroid users and have personally observed the effects of anabolic steroid use on hundreds of athletes. I am a former competitive bodybuilder and certified personal trainer with over twenty years of lifting experience (recently bench-pressing 405 lbs. for 5 repetitions). For further information on the Anabolic Steroids Control Act, as well as a review of anabolic steroid health risks, please visit my web site at www.steroidlaw.com. For further information concerning my partners and I, including samples of the many cases we have defended, please visit (and bookmark) my law firm’s web site at www.cmgesq.com. If you know someone seeking legal information, feel free to tell him or her about our web site. For those in need of legal help, we can be reached at 516-294-0300 and are available 24 hours, 7 days a week for emergencies. Other inquiries are answered weekdays between the hours of 2 PM and 6 PM EST.

Here are some general principles in answer to a few of the most commonly asked questions concerning steroid arrests. For further general information, including, for example, the consequences of not being read your rights, please see our law firm’s web site (which has a section devoted to this general topic) at www.cmgesq.com if you have been arrested.

How am I most likely to get arrested for steroids? Probably for selling them to someone who has his own legal problems and is secretly cooperating with law enforcement. You might get a call from an old gym acquaintance asking if you can get him a few vials of steroids. A meeting will be arranged, your old pal will bring along an undercover cop, and you’ll be arrested on the spot or after a few further deals. Of course, anabolic steroid distribution is investigated in a variety of other ways. For example, monitoring news groups and chat rooms on the Internet has become a common approach of federal agents. Trying to sell or buy steroids over the Internet can be an excellent way of getting oneself arrested. It is always best to assume that anyone looking for steroids on the Internet is an undercover police agent. Federal Postal inspectors also monitor the U.S. mails. Suspicious packages coming from overseas can be examined. Among domestic parcels, those from California and the Southwest to sites on the East Coast reportedly have a higher probability of attracting attention. Once suspicion is aroused, inspectors will investigate records of prior packages involving the points of origin or destination. If illegal drugs are found in the mail, the U.S. Postal inspectors will often arrange a “controlled delivery” of the package to the designated recipient. If the package is accepted, agents will immediately enter with a search warrant to look for additional drugs. Obviously, mailing anabolics is risky business.

What are my chances of being arrested just for personal use possession? While most steroid investigations by law enforcement target sellers, either big-time or, lately, even small-time, arrests for personal possession do occur. Often, these arrests arise out of car stops for traffic violations and the steroids are found during a search of the car. For example, I recently defended a case where a police officer found a few syringes after stopping my client for speeding and discovering he had a suspended driver’s license. In New York, the possession of hypodermic instruments is a misdemeanor, and my client was arrested on the spot. Fortunately for the client, the officer overlooked a hefty stash of anabolics which was more carefully concealed. While the vast majority of users probably don’t get caught, you could be one of the unlucky few. Those who do get caught can suffer serious consequences. The consequences of an arrest include being handcuffed, fingerprinted, and hauled before a judge, while the effects of a criminal conviction may include preventing or interfering with future employment opportunities in many fields such as law enforcement. If you are arrested for possessing (or selling!) anabolic steroids, the best advice is to remain silent, ask for the opportunity to contact a lawyer immediately, and answer no questions until you speak with him or her. Once you request a lawyer and refuse to talk to the police without one, the police are legally prohibited from questioning you further.

What happens after the arrest? After the arrest processing by police or other law enforcement agents, the next step is generally a court arraignment at which the judge or magistrate will provide your attorney with a copy of the charges against you, and decide whether bail should be set. The purpose of bail is for the judge to help ensure that the accused comes back to court. Whether bail is set depends upon numerous factors, including the seriousness of the charges, risk of flight, prior record of the accused, etc. If an unaffordable bail is set, you could remain in a detention facility while awaiting the resolution of your case. An experienced criminal lawyer can argue against the setting of bail for you. Of course, a detailed explanation of the progress of a criminal case in state or federal court is beyond the scope of this site, and it is strongly suggested that you consult directly with a criminal defense attorney if you are being investigated or have been charged with a crime.

What federal laws make anabolic steroids illegal for athletes? In the mid-1980’s, media reports of the increasing use of anabolic steroids in sports came to the attention of the U.S. government. This “steroid problem” was addressed by the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990. The law applies in every federal court across the country. It places steroids in the same legal class – Schedule III -- as amphetamines, methamphetamines, opium and morphine. Simple possession of any Schedule III substance is a federal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a minimum fine of $1,000. Simple possession by a person with a previous conviction for certain offenses, including any drug or narcotic crimes, must get imprisonment of at least 15 days and up to two years, and a minimum fine of $2,500. Individuals with two or more such previous convictions face imprisonment of not less than 90 days but not more than three years, and a minimum fine of $5,000, just for simply possessing. Selling steroids, or possessing them with intent to sell, is a federal felony. An individual who sells steroids, or possesses with intent to sell, is punishable by up to five years in prison (with at least two additional years of supervised release) and/or a $250,000 fine. An individual who commits such a violation after a prior conviction for a drug offense faces up to ten years imprisonment (with at least four additional years of special parole) and/or increased fines.

Are steroids also illegal under state laws? During 1989 and 1990, many states reclassified anabolic steroids to become controlled substances under state law. A 1991 survey of anabolic steroid state legislation found that approximately twenty-two states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas) had tightened control over steroids in the preceding two years. State laws differ as to the classification level for anabolic steroids, providing for a wide range of penalties. The states also differ in their approach to controlling anabolics. Some, such as Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas and Michigan, require the posting of notices designed for public education as to the dangers of illegal use. Further, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas have promulgated rules as to the prescription of anabolic steroids, warning practitioners against dispensation for non-medical use. In New York State, the Public Health Law classifies anabolic steroids as controlled substances. Possession of even a small quantity of a controlled substance can be prosecuted as a class “A” misdemeanor criminal offense under the Penal Law, punishable by up to one year in jail (although few first-time offenders are sentenced to jail time). Sale of anabolic steroids is a class “D” felony in New York, regardless of the quantity sold. In New York, “sell” is defined to include simply giving away as well as the act of offering or agreeing to sell. Sale of steroids is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Even gainfully employed, first-time offenders in many parts of New York State can serve some jail time, be placed on five years of supervision by the local probation department, and suffer the lifelong stigma of a felony drug sale conviction.

Will I be charged in state or federal court? In most states, both state and federal laws prohibit anabolic steroids, and a person can be prosecuted under either. In which court the case is brought often depends on the agency responsible for your arrest, and on the seriousness of the charges. If you are arrested by local police for simple possession (as in a car stop), you are more likely to be charged in state court. If your arrest arises out of an investigation by federal authorities (such as the DEA or U.S. Postal Inspector) or you are stopped by U.S. Customs at an international airport, you are more likely to be charged with federal crimes. This is particularly the case if the quantity is large and there is an indication of intent to distribute. In rare circumstances, you can be charged in both state and federal court with the same conduct.

Will the police try to get me to “cooperate” with them? People who get arrested for controlled substances are often pressured to work with the agents who arrested them or with other law enforcement authorities to assist in the identification, investigation, arrest and prosecution of others involved in criminal activity. Known to law enforcement as “confidential informants” (but to their former friends and associates as “rats” and “snitches”), they cooperate in return for more lenient plea or sentence bargains. It is not uncommon for the police or federal agents to squeeze the many “small fish” they arrest into giving up their sources, leading to the arrests of bigger fish who, in turn, are squeezed to give up their sources. Whether the police seek to recruit a person as an informant depends upon a combination of many factors. Deciding whether it is something an arrested person should consider doing requires a risk-to-benefit analysis and extensive consultation with an experienced criminal lawyer.

What is police entrapment? Simply put, entrapment refers to a legal defense where a person commits a crime solely because he was actively pressured by the police to do it. Each state has its own statutes and case law dealing with this issue. Under the New York state law, for example, entrapment is an affirmative defense when a person is pressured by the police to commit a crime just for the purpose of arresting him, and when the methods used by the police are such as to create “a substantial risk that the offense would be committed by a person not otherwise disposed to commit it” (emphasis added). (The New York State Penal Law Section 40.05 defines the affirmative defense of entrapment.) This defense protects people who are not predisposed to committing a crime, but who give in only because of the nature and persistence of police pressure. Just giving a person the opportunity to commit a crime (such as merely asking a person to sell a controlled substance) is not entrapment. Moreover, undercover police are lawfully entitled to lie while acting undercover. So asking, “Are you a cop?” before making a sale of anabolic steroids will not get the case thrown out of court.

What are my chances of going to jail? A very important question, but one that is impossible to answer without knowing the specifics in a given case. Whether an individual serves any prison time at all depends upon numerous factors including but not limited to the person’s past criminal history, the strength of the prosecution’s case, the person’s role in the offense, the amounts of steroids involved, and how effectively the case is either negotiated or litigated by defense counsel. In our experience, few first-time offenders charged with mere possession for personal use are sentenced to jail in the New York state courts. Sellers are treated more harshly. The Federal Sentencing Guidelines generally mete out stiffer sentences for distributing steroids than would apply in the state courts.

Does the criminal prosecution approach to the anabolic steroid problem work? It depends whom one asks. While anti-steroid authorities try to minimize the real life effects of criminalization upon our young adults, we defense lawyers see it firsthand. The student caught with steroids will be forever a felon. For those unfortunate enough to be caught, the effects of prosecution can be devastating. This is especially true since most adult steroid users lead otherwise responsible, law-abiding lives.

An East Coast former long-term user stated: Unfortunately our society has been educated to believe that if you use steroids, you’re no different from the guy with crack cocaine, and there is a big difference. In the ‘80s, I saw so many individuals who used steroids and in some cases abused them, and these individuals went on to become doctors, lawyers, DEA agents, and various other types of law-enforcement personnel at the state and federal levels – prominent citizens for this country… And we’re not talking about 10 or 20. We’re talking about hundreds of people I’ve seen over the years… I’d say at least 90, maybe 95 percent, of the steroid-users I saw became productive citizens – just because the guys who did it in the ‘80s were trying to be the best they could be. They had that characteristic of trying to be the best, and they kept that same characteristic and applied it to other areas of their lives.

B. Allen, “Steroids and the Law,” MuscleMag International (Vol. 180, June 1997) 48, at 56 (quoting an anonymous athlete). For a personal example, I am currently representing a man who was “set up” by his former training partner to sell to him a bottle of testosterone. The transaction was orchestrated by the narcotics squad of the county police department at the taxpayers’ expense. The deal was arranged to take place in a parking lot, and immediately after the transfer, a squad of law enforcement agents surrounded my client with guns drawn and handcuffed him. As my client, a gainfully employed and respectful young man, now faces a felony conviction and jail time, the question is raised whether such police operations really reflect a sensible approach to the problem and further whether they are a prudent or appropriate use of our government’s resources. The irreparable harms caused by the Control Act and similar laws may well outweigh the health risks associated with steroid use by most young adults. For a much more detailed analysis comparing the medical dangers of steroid use to the harms caused by the enforcement of the Anabolic Control Act, visit www.steroidlaw.com.

 
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