A possession of marijuana charge in Fairfax County is unfortunate because it remains a misdemeanor in Virginia. With so many states having legalized it in one way or another Virginia remains behind the times. If you have been charged with marijuana possession in Fairfax County you will likely hear a Judge explain to a packed courtroom that, while it is legal in Washington DC and Maryland, it is illegal in Virginia and they can't just dismiss the charge. Instead, you face the possibility of a jail sentence, loss of license, a drug conviction, and the resulting consequences that may affect employment, school, loans, immigration, and military service to name a few. However, hiring an attorney can really help lessen the impact a possession of marijuana charge will have on your life.
We are in Court everyday and routinely have cases in front of the same Judges and Prosecutors. We also work with the same police officers daily. We have built a strong rapport with the court system through years of trust and diligence and we put that to use with our clients. Feel free to give us a call or use the contact form and we will discuss your case. All consultations are FREE!
1st Offense Possession of Marijuana
For a first offense possession of marijuana charge, an individual faces a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a fine of up to $500 as provided in §18.2-250.1. However, this punishment is rarely handed down in Fairfax County. Rather, a Judge will either issue a fine or allow the person the ability to have the charge dismissed after completing the first offender program for marijuana cases. Specifically, §18.2-251 (commonly called the "251 Disposition") allows for the dismissal of the charge after completing probation. The terms of probation require the entry of a guilty plea or no contest plea to the charge. The guilt finding is withheld and the case is then continued between 6 months to a 1 year (depending on the Judge) for completion of 24 hours of community service, remaining drug-free, and having no further violations of law. As of now, the driver's license will be suspended for 6 months with the possibility of a restricted license. It should be noted that there is currently legislation on the books removing the license suspension requirement in some cases.
2nd Offense (or more) Possession of Marijuana
Unlike a 1st offense possession of marijuana, a 2nd offense is a Class 1 Misdemeanor. As a result, there is the possibility of a jail sentence of up to 12 months, a $2500 fine, and a 6 month loss of license to drive. A Judge is not likely to impose such a lengthy jail sentence, however, jail time is possible. Because it is a 2nd offense, there is no authority for the Court to do a 251 Disposition. The Fairfax County Courts have been more lenient in these types of cases over the past couple of years (given what is going on in other states) but jail time is still possible and an attorney should be hired to protect your freedom in these cases.
Defenses to Possession of Marijuana
The Virginia Code governing marijuana possession makes a very pointed law that ownership or occupancy of the place or vehicle where the marijuana is found does not create a presumption that the person knew or had possession of it. Rather, the Commonwealth will need to show other evidence that the person is guilty of the offense. Such evidence would include statements to the effect of knowing it is present or that it is theirs, making furtive movements towards an area where the officer later locates the substance, proximity to the marijuana (though proximity alone is not enough to establish possession), etc.
In cases where it appears that the Commonwealth can prove possession, we will work towards an alternative. In those cases, we will seek an amendment (change or reduction) of the charge. One common example is to agree to plead guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia. Many people choose this alternative because it is a violation of the health code and not a drug conviction. As a result, those receiving funds from the Government for student loans are protected. In addition, there is no license loss. In most cases, the prosecutor will agree to a simple fine.
In those cases where individuals may face immigration consequences, we will work towards an amendment to Disorderly Conduct or Trespassing. These crimes typically do not affect a person's immigration status. Likewise, they also do not carry a loss of license.
In some cases, we will have our clients get drug tested to show they are remaining drug free and do community service. These tasks will a lot of times help convince the prosecutor to either drop the charge or, worst case scenario, agree to amend the charge to something more favorable.
Hire a Lawyer for your Possession of Marijuana Charge
When you go to Court alone, it will be you versus the police officer. The Judge will need to decide who to believe. We have seen cases where people represented themselves and were convicted when there was a viable defense to their case. They just did not know how to articulate their case to the Court. That part is not their fault. However, going to Court without an Attorney should be avoided if possible. As long as marijuana remains illegal in Virginia the Court will have no choice but to enforce it.