KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ An American woman detained while carrying nearly five pounds of a white powder suspected to be heroin lost a bid for freedom Wednesday on the grounds that she was charged with the wrong crime.

Brenda Denise Ferguson's lawyer, Francis Ng Aik Guan, argued in court that because she faces a general criminal charge, instead of a violation of Malaysia's Dangerous Drugs Act, she was entitled to be released.

The penalty in Malaysia for drug trafficking is death.

Possession of .53 ounces of heroin or more is considered trafficking even if no sale is evident.

Ferguson, 43, a former nurse from Milwaukee, Wis., was arrested while she was checking in for a flight to Singapore at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Sept 4.

Customs officers acting on a tip found 4.85 pounds of white powder in her hand luggage.

The order to hold her, given for 10 days, expires Thursday. Then she can be released, charged or ordered held again.

If charged, Ferguson would be the second American charged with a drug offense in Malaysia. Kerry Lane Harris Wiley of Sacramento, Calif., was charged with trafficking in 9.3 ounces of marijuana in November 1989.

The charge was reduced to possession, and he was sentenced to five years in jail and 10 cane strokes. He was freed in 1993 on appeal.

Since Parliament passed laws in 1975 allowing the death sentence for convicted drug traffickers, 525 people have been sentenced to death and about 210 have been hanged.