If you have been found in possession of drugs (otherwise known as controlled substances) you can expect -with a high degree of certainty- to face a court prosecution.
These offences are serious, and a conviction can result in refusal by certain countries (particularly the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) to issue travel visas to allow you to enter their country.
While possession of drugs is serious, the seriousness with which they are treated is obviously dependent on the type of drug seized from you. While the Judiciary take a negative view of cannabis and its variants, they are especially concerned by the prevalence of other more serious drugs (e.g. cocaine, heroin, ketamine, amphetamine) and will impose heavy penalties on those found in possession of them.
The Attitude of the Judiciary Towards Drugs
Unsurprisingly, the Judiciary hold a uniformly negative opinion about drugs and those who “enable” (as they see it) the continued presence of drugs gangs, whose existence has plagued the country. Most Judges take a “proprietary” view about the District Court area over which they preside. To them, part of their job is to protect the citizens who live within their District. A corollary to this, is that groups who break the law and put the public safety at risk need to be punished. People who consume drugs are part of this group, as the money that they pay for drugs goes to drugs gangs who continue to import and distribute ever more lethal substances.
The sentencing parameters open to Judges for drugs offences are wide and all offences carry a potential custodial sentence. Naturally, Judges differ from one to the other and that is why it is very important to understand the views of a particular Judge in a particular court with respect to drugs offences. For instance, while one particular Judge may take a dim view of a person found in possession of a joint of cannabis and impose a monetary fine only, another may view the very same offence as one which is deserving of a custodial sentence.
Some Judges take the view that even cannabis can be regarded as a “gateway drug” and that society depends upon the Judiciary to send out a strong message to people found in possession of these substances and impose heavy sentences. The judicial logic is usually that if you didn’t purchase drugs from unsavoury individuals, society would be free of the scourge of drugs gangs. Whether you agree with these sentiments or not is irrelevant: the judiciary believe them, and that is all that matters. Armed with this knowledge, this is the basis from which you proceed to defend the case.
Most people caught in possession of drugs do not contest the charge i.e. they agree that they had the drug in question and intend to plead guilty to the offence. In nearly all cases, especially among those people who are occasional consumers of drugs, keeping your record clean from a criminal conviction is of supreme importance. In effect, you are asking the court to do you a favour i.e. not to impose a conviction which might be detrimental to your future career prospects. Now read that sentence again, its important. You’re asking the court to do you a favour, but the court does not have to do you this favour. If you want the court to grant you this favour, you have to work hard to demonstrate that you deserve it.
In order for the Judge to consider not imposing a heavy sanction, they will place strong reliance on positive and verifiable actions that you have taken to curb your use of illegal substances. These actions are more than “mere words” i.e. verbal assurances by you that you have stopped the consumption of drugs. Judges regard such verbal promises as worthless. Just because you have said it does not mean that they believe it. A lot of people make impassioned pleas to the court promising that they have changed, only to be arrested again the following week for exactly the same thing.
Something more than a verbal promise by you is required. This ‘something’ often includes attendances with drug counsellors or participation on a drug treatment programme. Of high value to courts will be your attendance at and proven successful record of providing clean urinalysis.
Deeds not Words
Urinalysis is a programme where you voluntarily give a sample of your urine to be tested every 2-3 weeks. Your urine is screened for the presence of illicit substances such as cannabis, cocaine, benzodiazepines, heroin and amphetamine. The reason why the Courts are so favourably disposed towards urinalysis is that the outcome is scientific i.e. the evidence of your non-consumption of drugs is based on science (clean urine samples) and not mere words. That is why both the District and Circuit Courts across the country strongly favour this approach.
But there is another reason why the courts favour urinalysis: the monetary aspect. Urinalysis is not cheap and is not covered by legal aid. A typical urinalysis test costs approximately EUR 100 and if a sample is being provided twice a month over a period of months, the costs do add up. But that is precisely why Courts like urinalysis so much: it has cost you a significant amount of money.
Put simply, “talk is cheap”. It costs nothing to tell a Judge that you are sorry or that you are not using substances anymore. Anyone can say that and because anyone can, the statement is worthless in the mind of the Judge.
But giving clean urinalysis cannot be done by anyone. In fact, it can only be done by people who are obviously not using substances anymore. But more than that, if you’re prepared to undergo a lengthy course of urinalysis, it indicates to the court - far more than your words ever could – that you really have given up drugs, because if you hadn’t, you would never voluntarily undergo a lengthy course which cost you a significant amount of money to accomplish and would definitively show that you were still using drugs.
Don’t Delay, Act Now
These are all very good starting points when you have been caught in possession of drugs. While urinalysis and counselling are welcome signs of progress, they are not a guarantee of a positive outcome in Court. What else can you do?
You can undertake all the suggestions above right away. You should not wait for the Gardai to serve you with a summons for court for drugs. If you were caught in possession of drugs on Saturday night you should be trying to avail of drug counselling or urinalysis on Monday morning. Why? Because there is something very tangible, inherently impressive in telling a Judge that having been caught with drugs, you took immediate - this is the operative word - steps to turn over a new leaf. If a solicitor is able to say this to a Judge on your behalf, it creates an incredibly powerful impression of not only who you are, but also how serious you are.
What works? Deeds, not words.
Patrick Horan, 2020.