Deciding how to plead for drug possession, especially if you have not come into contact with the law before may seem daunting and confusing. This blog outlines a few factors you should keep in mind when deciding how to plead.
Sometimes the amount of evidence that the prosecution has accrued may seem overwhelming. Being caught red-handed on video will not help your case, to say the least. But this does not automatically mean you have no chance of succeeding if you decide to plead not guilty.
There are several defences to drug possession and other drug-related crimes such as a lack of knowledge or exclusive possession of the area where the drugs were found.
It may also be possible to get prosecution evidence made inadmissible in court if it was the result of an illegal search. It may be worthwhile getting some advice from a lawyer about the availability of options in defending yourself against the charges.
Next, consider what is at stake: some drug charges come with heavy penalties, and all potentially have jail time attached.
Possession has a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, a $2,200 fine or both.
A first time offender caught with two or three ecstasy pills is unlikely to spend time in jail. But if you already have past convictions, or are charged with other drug-related offences as well as possession, you can expect to less leniency from the magistrate when it comes to sentencing.
If you think you could end up facing a very long prison sentence you should absolutely speak to a lawyer before deciding how to plead. There is no way to be 100% sure of what the particular judge or magistrate who decides your case will say, but an experienced drug lawyer will have seen numerous other drug unfold, and will have a better idea of the best way to run your case.
If you do decide to plead guilty to a drug charge, it is better to do this as early on as possible. If you plead guilty before your case goes to trial, you may be able to expect a sentence reduction, around 10-25%, depending on when you plead guilty.
Conversely, if you were given plenty of opportunities to plead guilty, and you didn’t plead guilty until a later stage, this will not work in your favour.
If you plead guilty to lesser charges, you may even secure the withdrawal of more serious ones. If you have been charged with drug possession as well as other, more serious, offences, pleading guilty to possession police may drop the more serious charges.
If, for example, you were charged with drug supply and possession, and there is no question about the fact that you were in possession of the drugs at the time, you can ask the prosecution to drop the supply charge on the basis that you plead guilty to the possession.
This is known as plea-bargaining.
In addition, pleading guilty to a drug charge may work towards securing what is known as a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’. This means that although convicted, you will not end up with a criminal record.
This is a valid consideration if you have reason to be concerned about the impact of a conviction on your current and future employment as well as potential overseas travel plans, which could well be prejudiced by a criminal record.
Pleading guilty to a small amount of possession, for example, just a few pills can often be the quickest way to have your matter dealt with.
Things you can do once you have plead guilty to reduce your sentence
If you have decided to plead guilty there are several steps you can take to make sure that when you have to appear in court you are well-prepared and maximise your chances of the magistrate dealing with you leniently.
Showing remorse for your offence is a factor that the judge can consider in the sentencing process.
Writing an apology letter to the court, or obtaining about three character references can have a significant impact on your case and can go a long way to showing you are remorseful for your actions.
The people who you ask to write these references should ideally know you well, and they must be aware that you are pleading guilty to the charges against you.
Participating in the MERIT program, if this is an option available for you, can also work to your advantage. MERIT stands for Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment, and aims to break the cycle of drug addiction.
When it comes time to hear the case in court, your progress in the program will be taken into account by the magistrate.
If you are, at any point unsure about your options regarding how to plead, speaking to a criminal lawyer is your best option.