Persons charged with drug possession as a first offense are usually eligible for treatment as a first-offender, under Virginia Code Section 18.2-251.
The probationary program requires the defendant to be of good behavior, enter and complete a drug class/treatment, have a restricted driver’s license for a period of six months, pay the court costs, and complete community service–at least 100 hours for a felony, and at least 24 hours for a misdemeanor.
Persons previously convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia are not eligible for a 251 disposition in most jurisdictions.
At the end of the probationary period–often one or two years for a felony, and six months to one year for a misdemeanor–the court will evaluate the defendant’s performance and, if all conditions have been satisfied, dismiss the case.
In the event that the defendant fails to complete any requirement of the program, the court will find the defendant guilty and impose an appropriate sanction. This means the defendant will have a permanent criminal record.
This is an effective tool for defense lawyers to utilize when representing those charged with drug possession. Clients can even enter a plea of not guilty, go to trial, and upon being found guilty still avail themselves of the 251 option, at the court’s discretion.
The 251 option is the result of the Virginia legislature realizing that many people will experiment with controlled substances, and 251 gives defendants a second chance at keeping a clean record, despite being guilty as charged.
I have had many cases where this disposition saved a client’s job, allowed them the opportunity to re-evaluate their habits, and generally set them on a better course in life.
In one case in particular, my client was charged with heroin possession, and she was able to get clean as a result, and has been clean and sober for over fifteen years. And with no convictions on her record! She remains a friend to this day.
At Whitestone Young, we have handled thousands of 251 dispositions over our combined many years of criminal defense representation.