Drug offences are very complex and every case is different. With supply offences ranging from passing a joint between friends to large scale commercial trafficking, sentences vary greatly. If you are only supplying a small amount of Class C drug it’s possible to get a fine, but otherwise you should expect to get at least a community order, i.e. unpaid work supervised by a probation officer, and/or a prison sentence.

When deliberating the sentence, aggravating and mitigating factors will be considered but the starting point and maximum penalty will be determined by what ‘class’ of drug was involved. There is a range of sentencing options that the court should have regard to when it is considering what punishment to impose. The court must give its reasons if it is going to stray outside the range, and therefore it is rare that the court will give a sentence outside the appropriate range.

Class A

  • Drugs: Crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine
  • Maximum sentence: Life imprisonment
  • Offence range: Community order ­­­– 16 years’ custody

Class B

  • Drugs: Amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, ketamine, methylphenidate, synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones
  • Maximum sentence: 14 years’ custody and/or an unlimited fine
  • Offence range: Fine – 10 years’ custody

Class C

  • Drugs: Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines, gamma hydroxybutyrate, gamma-butyrolactone, piperazines, khat
  • Maximum sentence: 14 years’ custody and/or an unlimited fine
  • Offence range: Fine – 8 years’ custody

The starting point is established by the drug ‘class’ but the final sentence will be based upon the defendant’s culpability, the harm associated with the offence and additional aggravating and mitigating factors.

The culpability is dependent on the defendant’s role in the offence: a leading role, i.e. directing the operation on a commercial scale; a significant role, i.e. having an awareness and understanding of the scale of the operation; a lesser role, i.e. being engaged in the operation by pressure, coercion and intimidation.

The harm associated with the offence is determined by the quantity of drugs seized—being found with 5KG of cocaine will obviously be deemed worse than being found with 5G of cocaine and therefore the sentence will be harsher.

Any other circumstance that increases the culpability of the offence will be considered, as well as any evidence regarding the defendant or the circumstances of the crime that might result in establishing a lower level of culpability. Aggravating factors include previous convictions, high purity of drug and supplying drugs on or in the vicinity of school premises. Mitigating factors include a number of things, such as a lower purity of drug, being an isolated incident and good character and/or exemplary conduct.

With the starting point established and all aggravating and mitigating factors considered, the court will adjust the sentence within the range determined by the ‘class’ of drug.

In certain cases, where the defendant has relevant previous convictions, the court may be required to impose a minimum length of prison sentence. These types of cases require special attention and careful consideration to ensure that a fair and just result is obtained that reflects all the circumstances.

If you have been charged with a drug offence you should immediately take expert legal advice to ensure your case is considered in detail with mitigating factors strongly established, and to ensure that the most favourable result is obtained on your behalf.