Many states have legalized marijuana and fewer people see it as the dangerous “gateway drug.” Even though society is changing, the laws in Virginia regarding marijuana have not. Virginia Code §18.2-250.1 makes it illegal for anyone to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana, unless he or she has a valid prescription. Basically, recreational marijuana is a crime and while some exceptions exist for medical use, there are strict requirements.
Virginia law makes a second or subsequent possession of marijuana charge a Class 1 misdemeanor, which means that a judge can sentence an offender to up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. While first offenders face less severe consequences, judges may still sentence them to up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. In both cases, the offender will likely have a misdemeanor conviction on his or her record forever.
For young people, a misdemeanor conviction can limit the jobs they have access to or the colleges they can attend. A standard criminal background check will show that the offender has a criminal conviction for possession of marijuana and application questions may ask whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime or ever used an illegal substance. Lying on these applications can have severe consequences if the job or college discovers the truth.
So, what can be done? A skilled drug crime lawyer may be able to avoid a conviction altogether. The first step is to look at the evidence. Even if police found marijuana in a car or a pocket, it may not be admissible in court. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. If a police officer searched a person or vehicle without legal justification, whatever is found will likely be “suppressed,” meaning the prosecutor cannot admit it in court. If key evidence is suppressed, a judge may find the defendant “not guilty.”
If the evidence is solid, negotiation with the prosecutor may result in a court dismissing the charge. This is a resolution usually reserved for first time offenders. A judge may agree to withhold judgment by not finding the defendant guilty for a year. If no additional crimes are committed in a year, the judge may dismiss the charge. A dismissed charge means the defendant was never convicted or proven guilty.
For people under the age of 18, the court may have a pre-trial diversion program that allows the juvenile from even needing to go to court. These programs usually require the juvenile to perform community service and take a drug awareness class. Once the requirements of the diversion program are completed, the charge disappears without ever being presented to a judge.
Whatever the specific situation, meeting with a criminal defense lawyer early in the process can help you avoid serious consequences.