One of the most common charges people face is simple possession of marijuana, in other words, possession of marijuana for personal use and not for distribution.
Possession of marijuana for personal use in Virginia is a misdemeanor, punishable by:
- up to 30 days in jail
- a fine of $500.
- Driver's license suspension for 6 months
These penalties do not even factor in the lifelong effect of having a drug conviction on your permanent record when you apply for jobs, school, the military, etc.
Requirements for the First Offender Program in Virginia
The Virginia Code allows for what is called the "first offender program" for first time marijuana possession charges. To be entered into this program, you must do the following:
- enter a plea of guilty or no contest to the charge
- complete a substance abuse assessment
- complete a drug education and/or treatment program based upon the recommendation of the substance abuse assessment
You bear the costs of these programs (which are substantial), as well as all court costs. Anyone enrolled in the program will be required to complete at least 24 hours of community service (but the judge may order more), and will be subject to random drug testing while enrolled in the program.
The charge is then dismissed at the end of a year if the individual successfully completes these requirements. However, even though the charge is ultimately dismissed (if you do everything right), the 6 month driver's license suspension still applies the same as if you had been found guilty.
Should I accept the first offender program?
I provide this information because the prosecutor will offer the first offender program in the vast majority of cases where individuals are eligible. But just because it is offered does not mean it is a good deal. Depending upon the facts and circumstances of your case, there may be ways to beat this charge outright; so that you protect your clean record, your driver's license, and your future.
Prosecutors are eager to offer first offender status to those who are eligible because proving a marijuana charge is a lot of work for them!
Possible Defense Strategies for Your Marijuana Possession Charge
Be wary of a defense lawyer who pushes the first offender program on you without thoroughly examining the possible avenues for acquittal in your case. They should be asking questions such as:
- Was the marijuana seized lawfully?
- If it was found in your home, why was the officer there in the first place? If it was in your car, why were the officers searching your car?
- Was it found on you, or just near you?
- If you made any statements, are they admissible against you in court?
- Did the officer complete the chain of custody forms?
- Were these forms maintained to the evidence locker?
- Was the marijuana field tested?
- Was it sent to the laboratory in Richmond?
- And on and on and on...
There are so many ways for an aggressive attorney to attack a possession of marijuana charge. If all you are doing is shopping around to find the cheapest lawyer in town for your marijuana charge, then you are simply accepting the first offender program as a foregone conclusion. Hire a lawyer who will fight for you, not one who will take the first deal the Commonwealth offers.
Contact Our Office
Whatever you think about marijuana laws in this country (here is information on an organization seeking to change them), if you are facing a marijuana charge in Virginia, the stakes are high. If you are going to hire a lawyer, hire one willing and ready to fight for your rights! Contact us by calling 757-209-2328 or submitting an online form!