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Loudoun County Attorneys > Blog > Criminal Defense > Does Virginia Offer Lesser Sentences For First-Time Drug Crime Offenders?

Does Virginia Offer Lesser Sentences For First-Time Drug Crime Offenders?


In the Commonwealth of Virginia, first-time offenders charged with certain drug crimes may qualify for a lenient sentence. In this situation, the Virginia courts may place the offender on probation, instead of finding the offender guilty. This pathway enables first-time offenders to avoid the consequences of a conviction and criminal record. The offender must complete all aspects of the probation program; otherwise, the full criminal consequences will come back into play.

What Drug Crimes are Eligible for the First Offender Program?

Code of Virginia Section 18.2-251 provides the eligibility requirements for the first offender program. This program applies to any offender who is:

  • Charged with a first-time offense relating to marijuana or narcotic, stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic drugs; or
  • Found guilty, or likely to be found guilty, of a first-time offense relating to possession of a controlled substance in violation of Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250.

There is an important exception: The first offender program is only available once. If a person previously received a lesser sentence from the first offender program, they cannot benefit from the program a second time around.

What are the Terms & Conditions of the First Offender Program?

Section 18.2-251 also clarifies the terms and conditions of the first offender program. To complete this program, first-time offenders must:

  • Complete substance abuse treatment or similar educational services;
  • Abstain from alcohol and drugs throughout the entire probationary period;
  • Submit to regular testing for alcohol and drugs throughout the entire probationary period;
  • Engage in reasonable efforts to secure and maintain a job; and
  • Complete mandatory community service requirements — 24 hours for a misdemeanor offense or 100 hours for a felony crime.

In addition to the requirements above, first-time offenders must also submit to official fingerprinting identification. A law enforcement officer will complete this identification process by taking the offender’s photograph and fingerprints.

Who is Responsible for the Costs of the First Offender Program?

Section 18.2-251 stresses that the person on probation is responsible for all costs related to the first offender program. There is an exception, though: impoverished individuals may request a fee waiver from the Virginia courts.

What is the Penalty for Violating the First Offender Program?

Under Section 18.2-251, strict adherence to all terms and conditions of the first offender program is required. If a first-time offender violates their probation, the Virginia courts will enter a conviction against that person. On top of a criminal record, the offender can face the full consequences under the law, up to and including jail or prison time and criminal fines.

Do You Need Legal Help?

If you have legal questions about drug crimes or other offenses under Virginia law, reach out to an extremely dedicated Leesburg criminal defense lawyer at Simms Showers LLP. We can begin mounting a defense immediately.

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