Do I need a lawyer for a first offense Possession of Marijuana?
(Note: This article will be outdated on July 1, 2020 when a new law in Virginia takes effect. That law make Possession of small amounts of Marijuana a civil fine of $25. Possession of less than 1 oz is presumed “possession” and thus a civil crime as opposed to possession with the intent to distribute which is still a crime.) I was in Fairfax County General District Court Criminal docket and there were nearly 30 people charged with Possession of Marijuana. Do they need an experienced Possession of Marijuana Lawyer Fairfax County VA? In my opinion, for a first offense, it is not necessary, but if you have the money, it would be smart.
First of all, the fact that there are 30 people charged with Possession of Marijuana nearly every day of the 250 days a year Fairfax County hears cases, is a good argument for legalizing it. So many people in Virginia just do not regard Marijuana as a bad thing. I imagine that in the 1930’s during Prohibition, it was the same thing. Throngs of people who, despite a law making possession of alcohol illegal, drank anyway and were busted for Possession of Alcohol. Eventually the government gave up because no one was paying attention to the law. Be that as it may, until the law changes, a Possession of Marijuana is a Class 1 Misdemeanor crime in Virginia! So, you need to think this through. Just because it is legal in some form in 20+ states in the US does not mean it is legal in Virginia.
Do you need a lawyer? First of all, there is a program called “251 Disposition” and in Fairfax County, the Court will allow any first offender the opportunity to do this whether or not the defendant has an attorney. This “251 Disposition” is slang for VA Code 18.2-251. It is more complicated than this (if you want all the details look it up on line), but basically, you plead guilty (or not guilty and agree that if it went to trial, you would be found guilty). The judge then does not enter a final order of guilt. Instead, he continues the case for about 6 months. If you successfully complete community service, complete a drug education class, and get no further violations, then the case will be dismissed. Also, your driver’s license gets suspended for 6 months, but you can get restricted driving privileges to go to and from work, school, child care, etc. (Consult the Virginia Code for all the reasons you may be allowed to drive). If you want to avoid the license suspension, then you can do extra community service. So, if you can do all of this, it is a guaranteed way to get the case dismissed and your really don’t need a lawyer in Fairfax County, that is.
But is this “251 Disposition” too good to be true? Many people find out the hard way that it is not the panacea to their problems. Judges do not tell people this in court, but an experienced Possession of Marijuana Lawyer Fairfax County VA should warn you that it will create a criminal record, and you cannot get it expunged (a.k.a. erased) from your criminal record. Never! It stays on your record for the rest of your life. Your criminal record will say, “Charged Possession of Marijuana – Dismissed.” The only way to get it expunged is to get the Prosecutor to drop the charge (e.g. “nolle prosequi” which is Latin for “not prosecute”) or go to trial and win.
Every month or so someone calls me about getting their charge expunged, and I have to inform them that with a VA Code 18.2-251 Disposition, they cannot get it expunged. Their response is “No one told me that…” So that is why you should consult a drug attorney prior to going to court. As stated above, you really don’t need an attorney to get the 251 Disposition – the Judges in Fairfax and most other Jurisdictions offer it to everyone. However, you need an attorney to find out if you can get the Prosecutor to nolle pross, or if you can go to trial and win.
The 18.2-251 Disposition is only available to people who have never been previously convicted of possession of an illegal substance. In addition, the 18.2-251 Disposition is a one-time thing. So, if you got it before, you can’t get it again. If you have a previous charge or have gone through the 18.2-251 Disposition before, then you really should hire an experienced Possession of Marijuana Lawyer Fairfax County VA. This is because you are now looking at having an actual drug conviction on your record. That may not matter to you. Maybe your future employers won’t care. After all, it is “just marijuana.” But what if you are in a regulated profession (e.g. requires a license from the government like commercial truck driver, dental hygienist, doctor, lawyer, realtor…)? What if you have a security clearance? I don’t know if you would lose your license or your clearance. You would need to consult a lawyer that practices in the areas of licensure or security clearances. But if you believe you can’t afford to get a drug possession conviction, then you need to go for the win – and while there is no law that says you have to have an attorney, practically speaking, it would be extremely difficult to get a dismissal or a nolle pross without a Lawyer.
In Fairfax, and many other jurisdictions, the Prosecutors will not talk to individual defendants. They will only converse with lawyers. If you are in such a jurisdiction, then you really have to have a Possession of Marijuana Lawyer Fairfax County to even ask the Prosecutor to nolle pross the case. Other things a lawyer can do for you is to think of creative alternatives such as asking the Prosecutor to amend the charge to Possession of Paraphernalia (a minor crime compared to Possession of Marijuana) or amend the charge to Trespassing. Trespassing has a similar program to the 18.2-251 Disposition. If you can plead guilty to a Trespassing, the mention of “marijuana” can be expunged, and your record will read, “Charged Trespassing – dismissed.”
Finally, maybe going to trial is the best path. The Possession of Marijuana statute itself says that mere presence of marijuana in a vehicle cannot create a presumption of possession. So, if you did not admit that the Marijuana was yours, and it was in the car and not in your pocket, there is always a valid defense. If that is the case, you can go to trial and try and win the case. Also, this would be a good bargaining chip for your Possession of Marijuana Lawyer Fairfax County. He can explain to the Prosecutor the weakness in the Prosecutor’s case, thus encouraging the Prosecutor to nolle pross the charge or amend it to a lesser charge.