Marijuana Possession: Why You Should Contact a Lawyer Before Accepting First Offender Treatment
Virginia law is relatively strict when it comes to possession of marijuana. This may seem counterintuitive since under Virginia law first offenders may be eligible for a program to have the charge eventually dismissed. However, there is more the first offender program than what is usually conveyed to you in court.
Under Virginia law, a person with a first-time drug offense is usually given the option to enter into a first offender program, commonly called a “251 Program.” For marijuana cases, the 251 Program provides that the person will plead to the marijuana possession charge, be placed on a period of probation, perform a minimum 24 hours community service, undergo substance abuse counseling, and pay your court costs. A person enrolling in the 251 Program may also sustain a 6-month driver’s license suspension, but may opt to do an additional 50 hours community service in lieu of a license suspension. In exchange for successful completion of this program, the charge would be later dismissed at the conclusion of the probation period.
So, you might ask, what’s the problem with this?
First, though a person who successfully completes the 251 Program would avoid a conviction, the underlying citation or arrest for the charge is not eligible for expungement under current Virginia law. This is because a dismissal from the 251 Program is classified as a “deferred finding,” which requires a plea. See What Qualifications Must I Meet for Expungement for more information.
Second, oftentimes a person who is eligible for the first offender treatment afforded by the 251 Program could still be placed in that program after going to trial and losing. For this reason, barring extreme circumstances, I usually suggest using the 251 Program as a safety net rather than as an immediate option in marijuana possession cases.
How can a criminal defense attorney help?
The two reasons above should be enough to show how jumping into the 251 Program without consulting with an attorney could be a mistake. Hiring a Fairfax VA criminal defense attorney could be your biggest step in the right direction. There are specific rules regarding how evidence can be obtained and presented in court that are particularly relevant in drug cases. A qualified criminal defense attorney can search for these evidentiary issues, prepare you for your day in court, and talk to the prosecutor to try to get the charge dropped without the use of the 251 Program. Additionally, if the prosecutor does not agree to drop the charge outright, then taking the case to trial might be your best option and having a criminal defense attorney representing you at trial gives you the best chances at a favorable outcome. Finally, as mentioned above, a criminal defense attorney would be your best avenue to convince a judge to enroll you in the 251 Program as a back-up plan if you do not prevail at trial.
If you have been arrested in Virginia for possession of marijuana, you should not rush into the decision to enroll in the first offender program. You need to consult an attorney first and you Rudolphi Law on your side. Our criminal defense lawyer Fairfax VA will build a strong defense in your favor. Contact Rudolphi Law immediately to discuss your case with experienced Virginia criminal defense attorney.