When you get charged with drug possession or, even worse, attempting to traffic drugs, you could find yourself facing a hefty fine, potential jail time, and probably probation. Additionally, a drug charge is often a criminal offence, which means that it stays on your record for the rest of your life and may interfere with your ability to get employment in the future. Drug possession lawyers represent your best chance of turning the situation around and might even help you get the charge dropped if the circumstances are right.
The Consequences of Criminal Charges
If you face drug charges, the biggest issue that your Toronto drug defence lawyers will try to solve for you is to make sure that the charge does not go on your record as a criminal offence. The major thing about criminal offences is that once they are on your record, they never leave. Canada does not have a method to expunge these issues from your record, meaning that anybody who does a criminal background check for the rest of your life can find a public record of your conviction. While some employers and lenders may consider the length of time without a conviction or steps you took to rehabilitate yourself into consideration, many can and will refuse you employment or decline your loan application based on the existence of a prior criminal offence.
Possession versus Trafficking
One of the biggest determining factors in whether you face a criminal charge or not is whether you are charged with possession or intent to traffic the drugs on your person. This often boils down to the quantity of drugs you have on your person. A large quantity or the recorded attempt to sell the drugs almost certainly means that you face a drug possession trafficking charge, which is almost certainly a criminal offence. While Canadian drug possession laws treat any drug possession as a potential crime, a drug possession defence lawyer stands a better chance of keeping a small quantity of illicit substances from turning into a major criminal charge. Certain mitigating circumstances can help soften these charges even further, such as the possibility that you did not realize that you had the illegal drug on your person.
Who Determines the Charges?
When you go to court to face a drug charge, the nature and severity of the charge depends on what the Crown counsel sets forward. Many drug possession charges Canada count as criminal offences, which means that you will not be able to remove the charge from your record if you are found guilty. On the other hand, your lawyer might be able to change the charge to a summary offence. In this case, there are established maximums in terms of both fines and jail time that you can face. Additionally, summary offences do not come up on employer criminal background checks. Should you be found guilty, paying the price for a summary offence is still inconvenient but it is not nearly the life-derailing problem that a criminal offence can be.
Can the Charges be Dropped?
Once you face drug charges, there is only a small chance that you will not have to go to court to defend yourself. The Crown counsel has final authority in whether or not charges will be withdrawn, but a skilled defence lawyer who knows the drug laws in Canada well may be able to help reach this ideal solution. If the Crown withdraws charges against you, then you won’t have to go to court to face the charge, you won’t have a criminal record if you didn’t have one before, and you can’t be prosecuted for the same incident a second time. Charges are most likely to be withdrawn if the arresting police officer made a procedural mistake, if the circumstances around your drug possession charge are in doubt, or if some other out of court issue would make your prosecution unusually difficult.
How Do I Get Charges Withdrawn?
Getting your drug charges withdrawn is the ideal scenario if you are worried about going to court. The best way to do this is to communicate thoroughly with your defence lawyer. Make sure to provide information about any unusual details involving your arrest, about potential bias you faced when interacting with the police, and regarding any other notable details involving the case. Your lawyer will look over the procedures taken by the police to make sure that they didn’t violate your rights in any way during the arrest. The lawyer will also verify that the drugs you possessed were in fact illegal and that you knew what they were. These matters may seem minor, but a potential procedural violation or inaccuracy in the charges against you can sometimes lead to the case getting withdrawn.
The other way to avoid a criminal record when dealing with major drug offences is to get the Crown to stay your charges. In this situation, your case doesn’t get dropped, but prosecution does end for a time. Stayed charges may lead to the matter resolving if you meet a set of conditions presented by the court. This might involve you entering into a rehabilitation program and will almost certainly require that you have no further criminal charges against you. If you violate the terms of the stay, then you can face prosecution again in the future. In most situations, a stayed case can resume in court within one year of the date that the charges were stayed. In some cases, this period can be extended even further.
Recent Changes to Drug Charges in Canada
Canada’s drug laws have remained generally stable over the years, but 2018 saw some changes to drug charges in the country thanks to the Cannabis Act. The most notable impact of the Cannabis act is that it made marijuana and other cannabis-based substances legal to use for recreational purposes throughout Canada. By extension, this act made it legal to sell and distribute marijuana in the country. There are still restrictions on this, however. For example, you need to be 18 years or older in order to legally possess and use cannabis products. As marijuana possession made up a significant portion of drug-related cases prior to 2018, the Cannabis Act has greatly changed the landscape when it comes to drug charges.
Drug Pardons for Marijuana Possession
The fact that the Cannabis Act made the sale and possession of marijuana legal in Canada does little to help the fact that millions of people have criminal charges on their record due to drug crimes that occurred before cannabis was legalized. This changed very recently, as April 2019 saw the passing of Bill C-93. This bill allows those who have been convicted of a drug-related crime to apply for a record suspension without being subject to the five-year minimum period normally required to get a suspension of a criminal record. If you have a past drug possession charge related to cannabis, that means that you now have a rare chance to remove that crime from your record and resume your life without a criminal offence to deal with.
What a Pardon Means
Whether you pursue a pardon following the passage of Bill C-93 or you choose to seek a pardon for a drug crime not related to cannabis, the process requires a careful filing of key documents and a strict adherence to the current laws of Canada. A lawyer can help you to make sure that the paperwork for your pardon is in order and that you have fulfilled all the requirements of getting a pardon. If you apply successfully, the charge is not removed from your record but is sealed, which means that it will no longer show up to potential employers and others who run criminal background checks. The length of time after your conviction can vary depending on your crime, but is usually a minimum of five years. Bill C-93 allows those convicted of cannabis-related offences to waive that period, but others must adhere to the laws pertaining to them.
The Necessity of Changing Behavior
Whether you hope for your charges to be withdrawn or stayed, or if you have already been charged and now seek a pardon, your behavior will determine your final level of success. Attending a drug rehabilitation program will certainly improve your odds of eventually dealing with the problem of a criminal drug offence, and you need to make sure that you avoid any further criminal offences while trying to get the charges dropped. In many situations, the court looks at your personal history as a pattern of behavior. The better your behavior, the more successful you will be in fighting these charges. Your lawyer can provide you with useful advice that can help you deal with your drug charges.
A charge of drug possession or trafficking requires immediate action on your part in order to control the amount of damage it deals. If you face these charges, your best hope of getting them dropped or at least reduced in severity comes from a knowledgeable drug possession lawyer who knows how to proceed.