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Drug Solicitors - Possession, Intent to Supply and Conspiracy to Supply / Import

19 May 2022

As a result of the criminalisation of certain drugs, a need has arisen for specialist drugs solicitors. The estimated number of regular drug users in the UK range between a quarter of a million and two million every week. This means that drug offences are often not limited to people that one would usually class as a ‘ criminal'.

Even larger scale offences such as Importation can be committed by individuals who are otherwise apparently respectable. Meanwhile, offences relating to producing drugs are often committed by people from immigrant communities, who are working illegally, and often the victims of people trafficking, which is something that a lawyer for drug possession charges should be aware of.

These offences are complex. If you are accused of any of these crimes, we recommend taking specialist legal advice from a drugs solicitor, and even seek free legal advice in the very early stages.

The Law

Much of the law on drugs is contained in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Parts of it are explained below, but drugs cases are complicated. If you need advice from a lawyer for drug possession charges because you or a family member has been charged, you should always seek advice from a drugs solicitor.

It is an offence to even possess most banned substances, and the level of seriousness depends on two main factors:

  • The type of substance

  • The purpose of the defendant's involvement with the substance

The Type of Substance

As most people are aware, illegal drugs broadly fall into three categories or classes A, B, and C, with A viewed most seriously.

Purpose of the Defendant's Involvement with the Substance

The second important factor when deciding the seriousness of a charge is the nature of the involvement. This means that possession is less serious but still a criminal offence. Possession with intent to supply is far more serious.

Offences involving the importation, exportation, or production of any type of illegal substance is serious, and can result in a custodial sentence of more than 10 years.

Possession and Possession with Intent to Supply - The basics from a Drugs Solicitor

If a person is charged with straight possession of a substance, even if it is a class A substance, then a prison sentence is very unlikely even if they are convicted after a trial. As most drugs solicitors will be able to confirm, if the person is charged with possession with intent to supply, then the case can only be dealt with in the Crown Court, and a prison sentence is very likely if they are found guilty or even if they plead guilty early on.

Possession with intent to supply basically means drug dealing, and can range from a few small bags of cannabis, to several suitcases of cocaine.  The length of sentence will depend on several factors, such as the quantity and strength of drugs, whether the dealing is party of a larger operation etc.

Possession with intent to supply class A drugs carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, although sentences over 10 years are rare.

Class B and C drug dealing convictions usually result in a much shorter prison sentence, although the maximum is 14 years.

Factors which can reduce sentence include:

  • Whether dealing has been done to fund a drug habit

  • Whether there has been pressure from other dealers to deal for them (sometimes called duress). This is very difficult to use as a defence to escape a guilty verdict, but can help in sentence.

  • Cooperation with the police

  • An early guilty plea

  • The age of the offender

Evidence in Possession with Intent to Supply Cases

The classic defence which a drugs solicitor may put forward on behalf of his or her client for drug possession is the defence of personal use. This means that drugs that have been found were to be consumed only by the defendant.

The prosecution might seek to put forward evidence which they say shows that the use is not only personal.

This might include:

  • A large amount of drugs

  • Large quantities of unexplained cash

  • Lists of names with amounts of money written next to them

    (could show customer accounts)

  • Materials for packaging large amounts to smaller amounts, such as wraps or ‘ snap' bags

  • Scales or other items used in the preparation or sale of drugs

  • Phone evidence

Importation, Exportation and Production

These offences are viewed as very serious because they usually involve large quantities of drugs and career drug dealers who sometimes make millions of pounds.

They are also treated very seriously because they are seen to be vital to the whole illegal drug trade. Without producers and large scale suppliers, the small-time dealers do not have access to drugs to deal on the street.

Evidence in Importation / Exportation Cases

In importation cases, as with many drugs cases, mobile phone evidence is particularly important. Where conspiracy is alleged by the prosecution, defendants have to be linked together for the charge to be made out, and phone traffic between individuals can show this, and also theoretically bring new defendants into the equation. So called ‘ cell-site analysis' can also be used to show approximate locations of defendants at certain times, although this evidence can sometimes be challenged  (For more information, see our section on Organised Crime / Conspiracy) .

Sat Nav units in cars can even sometimes be used to trace the whereabouts of defendants. This area of forensic science is a new and expanding area, and is often only understood by experienced drugs solicitors.

Forensic evidence relating to the defendants, such as fingerprints, DNA, and forensic analysis of clothes and body, is often important in drugs cases.

With fingerprint and DNA evidence, technical challenges are often difficult, although not always impossible. The best way to attack such evidence may be on the basis that the object in question was handled innocently, without knowledge, or even that an object found with drugs or at the scene of a drug production operation could have been moved. A team of drug solicitors should also ask any forensic expert witnesses to look at the issue of contamination if it is a DNA case.

Forensic analysis of clothing and hands or other body parts is often not an exact science, as was displayed with the scandal of the Maguire Seven, who were wrongfully convicted for being involved with constructing and detonating IRA bombs, when the nitro-glycerine that was on their hands could have passed innocently from, for example, a contaminated hand-towel.

Traces of substances such as cocaine can often be found on banknotes, but this does not necessarily mean that the holder of the money has been in direct contact with the substance.

Drug offences involving production of drugs

These cases are viewed with the utmost severity by courts, as they can not only involve large scale operations, but also often employ illegal immigrants. The immigrants themselves are often the ones who face prosecution, when they are often victims themselves, and the owners of drugs factories, notably for cannabis often evade the police.

The law makes distinctions between different levels of involvement in such cases, from workers, who receive lighter sentences, and supervisors, or people in authority over the operation, who can face long periods of custody. This is something that the lawyer for drug possession should advise the client on, as it can have a big impact on the outcome.

Issues in drugs production cases can be complex, and often involve analysis of property and financial records, forensic evidence, and also sometimes involve immigration issues not usually encountered by criminal solicitors.

Given the seriousness of these cases, it is always recommended to seek advice from a drugs solicitor if you or a family member have been accused of a drugs offence.

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