Possession of marijuana first offense is charged as a misdemeanor, and carries a potential penalty of up to 30 days in jail and up to a $500 fine. The court may impose both a jail sentence and a fine, or may opt for one or the other. A second offense under the same statute is a Class 1 misdemeanor, and may result in a sentence of up to 12 months in jail, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
Defense to a Possession of Marijuana Charge in Virginia
To obtain a conviction for possession of marijuana in Virginia, the prosecution must prove—beyond a reasonable doubt–that the defendant knowingly or intentionally possessed the substance.
The Virginia possession of marijuana statute also specifically states that the presence of a person in a vehicle or location where marijuana is found shall not create a presumption of possession. Likewise, the fact that marijuana is found in a car, residence or other location owned by the defendant does not create a presumption of guilt.
In short, the prosecution has a high burden to meet and there are many possible defenses to a possession of marijuana charge. A seasoned criminal defense attorney can break down the case element by element and determine the likelihood that the state will be able to meet its burden and explain your possible defenses.
Possession of Marijuana – First Offense – Deferred Prosecution
When someone is charged with a possession of marijuana first offense in Virginia, the court has the option of placing that person on probation without entering a conviction. In order to take advantage of this opportunity:
- The defendant must not have been convicted of any prior drug offense;
- The defendant must not have had a prior drug charge dismissed through deferred prosecution;
- The court must find that there are sufficient facts to support a finding of guilt; and
- The defendant must consent.
The exclusion based on a prior conviction will apply even if that conviction took place in another state or in the federal criminal justice system.
Assuming that all qualifying conditions are met, the court must then order the defendant to undergo evaluation and to complete any appropriate education or treatment program. Unless the defendant is indigent, he or she will also be ordered to pay all applicable costs. There may be additional terms of probation.
If the term of probation is successfully complete, the charge will be dismissed. However, violation of the conditions of probation may result in entry of a guilty verdict and sentencing on the original charge.
Synthetic Marijuana Charges
It's worth noting that Virginia also makes it illegal to possess various types of synthetic marijuana. The statute contains a detailed list of prohibited compounds. Possession of synthetic marijuana is not treated exactly the same way as possession of marijuana. While possession of marijuana – first offense carries a maximum jail sentence of just 30 days, possession of synthetic marijuana is a Class 1 misdemeanor. That means potential penalties of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 for a first offense, regardless of quantity.
Possession With Intent to Sell, Give or Distribute Marijuana
Under Virginia law, there are more serious penalties for distribution of marijuana and for possession with intent to distribute than for simple possession. Although there is no presumption of intent to distribute based on quantity in Virginia, the quantity sold or given to another person, or possessed with the intent to do so, will determine the possible penalties for that offense.
Distribution of or possession with intent to distribute marijuana in an amount less than ½ ounce is a Class 1 misdemeanor and may result in incarceration for up to one year and a fine of up to $2,500. The same charge, when the quantity involved is ½ ounce or more but less than five pounds, is a Class 5 felony, with a sentencing range of 1-10 years.
Fighting Possession of Marijuana Charges in Virginia
When you're facing possession of marijuana charges in Virginia, you have a lot at risk. Even a possession of marijuana first offense may result in jail time, and the initial conviction means that any subsequent charges will carry more serious penalties.
A criminal defense lawyer in Fairfax, VA can help you assess the case for weaknesses and determine the best course of action to protect your future, whether that means going to trial to fight the possession charge, negotiating a favorable plea agreement or taking advantage of the opportunity for deferred prosecution.
For any additional questions regarding marijuana possession laws and penalties in Fairfax, VA – please call the Law Office of Wilfred W. Yeargan or send a message online today.