The First-Time Offender Program for Virginia Drug Crimes
Virginia generally employs harsh penalties for drug crimes, including possession and distribution of controlled substances. Though in certain cases, first-time offenders can take advantage of a special program, rather than facing misdemeanor or felony charges. Instead of entering a guilty plea, the Virginia courts are allowed to place first-time drug offenders directly on probation instead.
That being said, Virginia law stipulates various required terms and conditions for the probationary period. First-time offenders must comply strictly with these terms and conditions. Otherwise, they could face the maximum criminal penalties allowable under Virginia law. Moreover, the first-time offender program is only available to certain people charged with specific crimes.
Who Qualifies for the First-Time Offender Program?
As explained in Code of Virginia Section 18.2-251, only certain individuals can qualify for the first-time offender program. Precisely, the offender cannot have any previous:
- Convictions for a drug crime involving narcotic drugs or similar stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic substances; or
- Legal proceedings, even in the absence of a conviction, for such a drug crime.
Is the First-Time Offender Program Available for All Drug Crimes?
In short, no, the first-time offender program is not available for all drug crimes. Section 18.2-251 limits this program to drug possession crimes. Eligibility for this program is limited to first-time offenders who commit:
- Unlawful possession of a controlled substance, as provided in Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250; or
- Unlawful possession of marijuana, as provided in Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250.1.
The first-time offender program is not available for other types of drug charges, such as distributing, manufacturing, or selling controlled substances.
What are the Terms of the First-Time Offender Program?
Section 18.2-251 outlines a series of required terms and conditions for a first-time offender’s probationary period. Specifically, the offender must:
- Complete various substance abuse requirements, including assessment, treatment, and education;
- Abstain from alcohol and drugs throughout the probationary period, submitting to regular tests as proof of sobriety;
- Find and sustain a job or make a reasonable attempt to do so; and
- Render between 24 and 100 hours of community service, depending on whether the original charge was a misdemeanor or felony.
If a first-time offender completes the requirements above, he or she will be discharged and the charges will be dismissed. Stated otherwise, the offender can avoid a conviction and criminal record. Though as noted previously, any deviation from these requirements can result in the maximum criminal penalties for the charges in question.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about the first-time offender program or other drug crimes in Virginia, it can be tremendously helpful to speak with a proficient criminal defense lawyer. The Leesburg drug crimes lawyers at Simms Showers LLP have established credentials in the arena of criminal defense, including the first-time offender program and other drug crimes. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.