What to Do If You Are Arrested on a Drug Charge
A drug charge is a serious criminal offence, with significant penalties found in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which is federal legislation.
If you are charged with a drug offence, you may face pre-trial detention and be held in prison until you are tried in court - a process that may take over a year. If you are convicted, you can expect to face imprisonment, a fine, property forfeiture and a criminal record. For these reasons, if you are charged with a drug offence, it is important to hire a criminal defence lawyer that is experienced in fighting drug charges. Consulting with David Wilcox, drug lawyer in Barrie, is a wise idea.
When Can I Be Charged with a Drug Offence and What Happens Next?A drug charge may be laid after a lengthy, detailed police investigation or come as a result of a chance encounter, such as a traffic stop. Whatever the circumstances, once a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you have committed an offence, s/he can arrest you.
Once arrested, the next step is for the arresting officer to communicate your charter rights to you, such as the right to remain silent and to speak with a lawyer. It is important to exercise both of these rights. You are only required to provide your identifying information (e.g., name, address, phone number). It is wise not to offer any information to the police beyond your identification because everything you say can be later used in a case against you.
It is very serious if your charter rights are breached in the process of interacting with the police. If the police officer does not give you the opportunity to speak with a lawyer, for example, the court may exclude the evidence found as part of the investigation.
The exclusion of evidence occurred last year in the Ontario Superior Court decision of R. v. Walters. Acting on a tip of drug trafficking occurring, the police officer went to the area and stopped Mr. Walters but did not inform him of his right to speak with a lawyer. Once the police officer did inform Mr. Walters of this right, it took over an hour before he was able to speak to a lawyer. As a result, the judge found several breaches of Mr. Walters right to speak to a lawyer and excluded the evidence of the drugs he was found in possession of. As a result, Mr. Walters was found not guilty.
Can I Be Held in Jail Before Being Found Guilty?
If you are arrested for a drug offence, the police officer may release you and give you a summons, telling you when you must appear in court for this charge. If this happens, it is important that you appear in court on that day and hire a criminal defence lawyer as soon as you are able to.
In other circumstances, the police may detain you until a bail hearing. The bail hearing will determine whether you will be held in jail until your trial or whether you will be released from custody. An experienced criminal defence lawyer can be very helpful in this process, ensuring the judge is aware of all the factors that show why you should be released into the community.
In 2016, the Ontario Court of Justice considered the case of R. v. Mead, in which an accused charged with possession of cocaine for purposes of trafficking was applying for bail. The Crown opposed granting Ms. Mead bail, arguing she should be held in custody until her trial. Because of her offence, she faced a “reverse onus”, meaning she had to prove why she should be released. The offence was very serious, with police finding enough cocaine and cutting agent to make 24 kilograms of diluted cocaine to sell, and the police had numerous pieces of evidence showing the accused was involved in drug trafficking. Despite this, Ms. Mead’s criminal defence lawyer was able to persuade the court to grant her bail and permit her to be released into the community until her trial.
What Happens If I Am Convicted?The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act contains numerous mandatory minimum prison sentences. If you are convicted of an offence carrying a mandatory minimum, the judge must sentence you to prison, regardless of all other circumstances. There is one exception to this rule, as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act permits courts to disregard minimum punishments if an accused completes a drug treatment program.
While the alternative of a drug treatment program may be a good outcome in certain cases, in the 2016 decision of R. v. Lloyd, the Supreme Court of Canada highlighted some concerns. The issues raised were that:
1) drug treatment programs are not available in all areas of the country;
2) to be admitted into a drug treatment program, the individual must plead guilty and give up the right to a trial;
3) individuals with addictions may have difficulties completing such a program, and;
4) in most programs, the Crown Prosecutor may disqualify an applicant from entering the program.
A criminal defence lawyer will be able to advise you of your best course of action, including whether a drug treatment program is available to you.
Even without a mandatory minimum penalty in place, drug offences often lead to lengthy periods of incarceration. Additional penalties can include fines, forfeiture or property and probation order with onerous conditions such as curfew and not being permitted to possess a cell phone.