When you’re first charged with drug possession, it can be difficult to make sense of what that will actually mean and what may happen. Penalties range from minor warnings that won’t typically affect day-to-day life such as employment, to lengthy prison sentences that will remain on your criminal record for life. This article will look at some of the things that may happen to help ensure that first time offenders know what to expect from a possession charge, albeit expert guidance is always advisable as the wrong decisions at an early stage of an investigation or police enquiry can have long term consequences.

Mitigating circumstances

If you’re caught with larger quantities of drugs that suggest you were intending to supply, your charges are unlikely to be dropped and the punishment will be more severe with the case heading to the Court. The same goes for if it seems like you were actively involved in an organisation selling the drugs, or if you were caught with drugs near a school or a prison. In these types of circumstances, you may find yourself being accused of being concerned in the supply or distribution of controlled drugs.

There are various things that the Police and Courts take into account when they are dealing with first time offenders, some of which may include showing remorse and whether admissions have been made, possessing only a small amount of drugs for personal consumption, and generally demonstrating a good character.

Cautions and discharges

If your first conviction is for possessing a small quantity of any lower-class drug for personal use, your charge is not quite dropped, but you are likely to only receive a caution. Cautions are entirely dealt with at a police station, and don’t lead to any further punishment, apart from, rarely, extra conditions like attending drug treatment. They are recorded on your criminal record.

If your first conviction is a little more serious, perhaps because you were caught in possession of class A drugs, your case may be referred to the Courts who will then consider a range of options, including whether the case could be dealt with by way of a fine or a discharge. This must be decided by a court, and can either be an absolute discharge or, slightly more seriously, a conditional discharge. An absolute discharge comes with no further punishment and is very rare. A conditional discharge means that if you are convicted for another crime within around 12-18 months, you will be sentenced for both the new offence and the one for which the discharge was originally imposed. All discharges appear on your criminal record and are convictions.

Cannabis is sometimes viewed differently

It is important to remember that, in the case of cannabis possession, the guidelines are more lenient. If your first offence is being caught with a small amount of cannabis for personal use, you may just receive a cannabis warning from the officer. There is no further punishment and it doesn’t go onto your criminal record, although police will keep a note of it in case you go on to offend again. It can feature on an enhanced DBS enquiry.

If you’ve already received a cannabis warning and get caught again, you may receive a Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND) from the police or you may be formally cautioned or charged and sent to court depending on whether there are any aggravating factors and how much drugs there were. A PND is a one-off fine of £80 that goes up to £120 if not paid within 21 days. If you get caught a third time, then you will receive a caution.

Charges aren’t dropped, but filtered

It is worth knowing that a DBS check filter is eventually applied to most cautions, discharges and convictions. This means that, if you are over 18, after six years any cautions for drug possession will not come up on a DBS check. It takes convictions for drug possession 11 years to get filtered. This doesn’t exactly mean that charges are dropped: warnings, cautions, discharges, and convictions all stay on the Police National Computer (PNC), and if an employer asks you in an official capacity you always have to be honest.

Know your rights

So, while no possession charge ever totally disappears, if it is your first time being caught with a small amount of drugs, there are very clear limits on how severe your punishment should be.

A first time offender caught in possession of illegal drugs should get legal advice to ensure they do not get charged with anything more severe than a caution or a discharge. However, the effects of the Caution can be significant in terms of travel and employment, and it’s important to ensure that every avenue is explored if these things matter to you.

If you have any doubts about the severity of a punishment, we can give you the help and advice that you need: just get in touch.