While we all know it is an offence to be in possession of unlawful drugs, many people do not know how drugs offences are dealt with in the District Court.
To begin with the District Court is your local court. It deals with minor or “summary” offences and most cases are dealt with on the basis of a guilty plea and in a matter of minutes. The majority of offences are dealt with by way of fines or in case of road traffic offences; you can be disqualified from driving.
However, did you know that the District Judge also has the power to send you to jail for two years? This is often lost on many defendants who’ve been charged with drug offences.
What are the Types of Drug Offences?
There are three main categories of drug offences.
1. Possession of an unlawful drug such as cannabis or street tables like “Up-John 90’s”, speed or cocaine?
2. Possession of drugs for the purpose of sale or supply and,
3. The unlawful cultivation of drugs, usually cannabis.
Most defendants are generally aware that simple possession of drugs, particularly cannabis, will only land you with a fine.
Possession of cannabis or any other drug for the purpose of sale or supply is a far more serious affair and can land you in jail for a lengthy period.
The third type of offence, cultivation of drugs, is also viewed seriously by the District Court. Depending on the level of sophistication of the cultivation, think professional grow house with all of the electrical accoutrements versus growing cannabis seedlings on your window sill, here too a jail sentence, or at least a suspended sentence, is likely.
Sale or supply can be a Big Deal
What concerns criminal law solicitors most, however, is the general lack of knowledge out there about the sale or supply type charge. This offence is dealt with under Section 15 of the Misuse of Drugs Act, 1977 (as amended).
While nearly everyone knows it is a serious offence to sell drugs, what people often don’t know is that giving or “supplying” drugs to someone free of charge also comes under the ambit of this offence.
In simple terms, admitting to passing a joint to your friend mid-smoke to an investigating Garda is all the DPP needs to hit you with a Section 15 charge.
In addition, taking into account the quantity of drugs found in your possession, the District Judge can also infer it was your intention to sell or supply the drug to another. In other words, while you could safely claim that 10 grams of cannabis is for your own personal use this claim will not hold much water if it’s 500 grams. Obviously, the State’s case will be helped if weighing scales, self-sealing plastic bags or tick lists are also found in or about your possession.
What kind of Powers do the Gardaí have to look for Drugs?
In investigating these offences, the Gardaí will often get a search warrant which allows them to search your home or seize your mobile phone. Text messages from others requesting drugs or using euphemisms such as “green” or “snow” will result in a Section 15 prosecution.
People are also upset to learn that the Gardaí have far reaching powers to carry out drug searches.
Provided the Garda has a reasonable suspicion that you are under the influence of drugs, you can be stopped and searched on the street or outside your car in broad daylight in the full view of the public, your children, and even your granny, and this is entirely lawful.
Failure to cooperate in the course of this search constitutes a separate offence too so, in reality, the person being searched has no other option but to bite their tongue and go along with it.
If the search proves negative that is the end of the matter but you may have some explaining to do to your Granny afterwards.
Some Final Thoughts
There is a common misconception amongst a certain section of the public that because cannabis use is legal in some circumstances in the UK and parts of Europe such as the Netherlands, and let’s be honest, is still used recreationally on a widespread basis throughout this State, to be prosecuted for possession of cannabis is not a serious matter.
Be warned, however, unless it is your absolute first offence, the District Court is likely to mark a criminal conviction against you. And while you may only receive a fine, this conviction will prevent you from travelling to the US or Australia and may also prevent you from getting employment where that employment requires Garda vetting.
In short, being prosecuted for any type of drug offence is a serious matter.
The more interactions you have with unlawful drugs the more likely it is you will end up in court.
If you can’t stop and get caught, don’t play it down, be smart and contact your local District Court solicitor.
David Peters Solicitor, Nenagh, 22/02/2016