In Virginia Courts, if you are charged with possession of narcotics and have no previous drug-related convictions you may be entitled to relief from conviction under Va. Code Section 18.2-251, commonly referred to as the “First Offender Program”. Be sure to ask your attorney about your eligibility.
How, you might ask?
Convince the Court to allow you to participate (a Judge is not required allow you to enter into the program)—this can be done in a variety of ways, most commonly by an agreement with the Commonwealth’s Attorney, explanation of mitigating factors or simply by entering a plea and advising the judge of your request to be placed into the First Offender Program.
If the Court grants your request, the case will be continued for a period of time (the “probationary period”). During this time you will be obligated to perform a variety of tasks, including:
- Completion of substance abuse assessment, and substance abuse treatment/education if appropriate
- Remaining drug and alcohol free: you will be required to undergo random drug/alcohol screens (note: for a lot individuals, this is the most difficult task)
- Making reasonable efforts to secure and/or maintain employment
- Completion of community service hours (at least 100 hours if you are charged with a felony, up to 24 hours if you are charged with a misdemeanor)
- Complying with a suspended driver’s license: your license will be suspended for a period of time (many judges will authorize a restricted license which will allow you to drive for certain things like work, school, medical care—read the authorized privileges: Va. Code Section 18.2-271.1(E)).
- Stay out of trouble: if you get new charges during the First Offender Program, you will likely violate the terms of the program.
- Pay the costs of the program (if you are indigent you can ask the Court to reduce or eliminate the costs).
Note: Be honest with yourself regarding the random drug and alcohol screens. A lot of people fail the program because of a positive screen. Why should that concern you? A lot of Judges consider this program a second-chance and, if you are not fully compliant, they may punish you more severely than if you never even entered the program—many Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield judges may even impose a significant amount of active jail time for failure to comply.
Don’t let this kind of warning scare you off. Though the obligations may be difficult, in my humble opinion the upside of successfully completing the program is much greater than the potential downside. Besides, if all goes well, your new favorite phrase will be: “Case dismissed!”