What is the First Offender Program for Virginia Drug Crimes?
There are strict laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia against committing various drug crimes, such as the possession or distribution of controlled substances. In most circumstances, any person who commits a drug crime will likely face confinement and fines for their actions. But Virginia law also provides leniency for certain first offenders who do not have any previous drug crime convictions on their record. These first-time offenders can avoid a conviction and criminal record by satisfying certain probationary terms.
Which Drug Crimes Qualify for the First Offender Program?
Code of Virginia Section 18.2-251 outlines the drug crimes that qualify for the first offender program. Under this section, the first offender program only applies to a person who commits:
- Possession of a controlled substance under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250; or
- Possession of marijuana under Code of Virginia Section 18.2-250.1.
Though if that person previously committed any other drug crime — including one not listed above, such as distributing or manufacturing — they are ineligible to participate in the first offender program.
What are the Terms of the First Offender Program?
Section 18.2-251 also establishes the conditions of the first offender program. Under this section, a first-time offender may be placed on probation instead of receiving a conviction for possession of a controlled substance or marijuana. But the offender must comply with the following conditions of probation:
- Attend an approved substance abuse treatment and education course;
- Refrain from consuming alcohol or drugs during the probationary period;
- Submit to regular alcohol and drug testing during the probationary period;
- Engage in a reasonable attempt to secure and maintain gainful employment; and
- Complete at least 24 hours of community service for a misdemeanor offense or 100 hours of community service for a felony offense.
What Happens if a First Offender Satisfies the Terms of Probation?
If the first-time offender satisfies all of the terms above and submits to fingerprinting, then the Virginia courts will dismiss the possession charges. This means that the first-time offender will not have a conviction or guilty judgment on their record. But if the offender commits another qualifying possession crime, they will not be able to participate in this program a second time.
What Happens if a First Offender Violates the Terms of Probation?
If a first-time offender violates the terms of probation outlined in the previous section, Section 18.2-251 authorizes the Virginia courts to enter a guilty judgment on the record. Stated otherwise, the first-time offender will be convicted for a possession crime and face the full penalties under the law. Depending on the circumstances of the offender — and whether the underlying crime was a felony or misdemeanor — this could mean the possibility of an extended prison sentence and substantial criminal fines.
Do You Need Legal Help?
If you have legal questions about drug crimes in Virginia, it can be exceedingly useful to contact a proficient criminal defense lawyer. The Leesburg drug crimes lawyers at Simms Showers LLP understand how to defend against drug crimes in Virginia, whether you are a first-time or repeat offender. If you need legal help with criminal defense, contact us today for a free initial consultation.