An expert criminal lawyer can aid your defence for drug offences by showing that not all of the necessary elements of the case are provable and demonstrate weaknesses in the prosecution’s case, potentially reducing the severity of a sentence or seeing the prosecution withdrawing some or all of the charges.
Slades & Parsons can answer your questions and guide you through the process with these charges.
Drug offences can be charged under State or Commonwealth law.
State drug charges are contained in the Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. The charges most commonly seen before the Court relate to individuals who are alleged to be in the possession of a quantity of drugs. Depending on the quantity, a person might be charged with Possession, Trafficking Simpliciter, Trafficking in a Commercial Quantity or Trafficking in a Large Commercial Quantity. A similar framework exists for cases of Cultivation of a Narcotic Plant (usually Cannabis).
The Drugs Poisons and Controlled Substances Act also contains offences relating to possession of items that are used in the cultivation or manufacture of drugs and offences directed at retailers who sell items used in connection with consuming drugs (such as bongs or ice pipes).
In more sophisticated drug cases, the police may seize money or assets and lay additional charges, alleging that the assets are proceeds of crime.
The penalty for trafficking drugs can vary significantly and depends on the seriousness of the crime. The maximum penalty in some cases is life imprisonment.
Lower level examples of trafficking are dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and typically involve a person arrested in possession of a traffickable quantity of drugs, where police can establish that transactions have taken place by locating ledgers or phone records indicating a person has sold drugs. Depending on the circumstances of the case and of the offender, the penalty could range from a good behaviour bond (for the lowest level examples) to a sentence of imprisonment which will increase in duration for more serious cases or for repeat offenders. Perhaps the most common penalty for trafficking drugs in the Magistrates’ Court is a Community Corrections Order, with court-ordered drug treatment and unpaid community work.
Serious examples of trafficking are heard in the higher courts (which often involve commercial and large commercial quantities) and are usually dealt with by way of lengthy sentences of imprisonment. In these cases, it is important to note that the quantity of drugs seized is not always the determinative factor in assessing the seriousness of a trafficking offence and that in cases of sophisticated operations or recorded transactions involving large quantities, sentences of imprisonment can still be lengthy even if little or no drugs are seized.
The penalty for drug possession depends on whether a court finds that the drugs were possessed for a purpose related to trafficking or for a different purpose (which is usually personal use).
Drug possession can be punishable by imprisonment and in cases involving large quantities of drugs which are possessed in relation to a sophisticated trafficking operation, a court might impose a sentence of imprisonment.
However, most drug possession charges are dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court and involve small quantities which are possessed for personal use. In these cases, the person’s personal circumstances and, particularly, criminal history will dictate the penalty. A person with no criminal history may be eligible to have their case dealt with via the ‘Diversion program’. Subsequent offenders will typically be convicted and fined.
For first time offenders, Police also have the discretion to issue a caution, meaning that no charges are laid on the condition that the person attends a session of drug-related counselling.
First-time drug offenders who have their cases heard in the Magistrates’ Court ordinarily do not go to jail. This is because Victorian sentencing law dictates that a jail sentence must only be imposed as a last resort and that there are other sentencing options not involving confinement of an offender which are seen to be more effective in promoting a person’s rehabilitation and preventing them from re-offending.
The situation is different in the higher courts where serious drug offences are heard. It is likely that first-time offenders who are involved in a sophisticated operation will go to jail. In these cases, first-time offenders are often targeted by criminal organisations to act as ‘couriers’ in the hope that they will avoid police detection due to having no criminal history. As such, jail sentences are usually imposed to deter other members of the public from engaging in these activities.