What happens when you get caught with cocaine?
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If you are caught in possession of cocaine, it is important to understand what actions the police may take and what sort of charges could be levelled against you. Being found guilty of possession of cocaine is a serious offence in itself, but the consequences can be more severe if you are found guilty of possession of cocaine with intent to supply it to someone else, as opposed to having it just for your own use. Producing drugs can be more serious still.
As cocaine is a Class A controlled drug, if you are caught in possession, you will typically face prosecution for an offence that carries an unlimited fine or a prison sentence as the penalty. It’s therefore vital that anyone accused of possession of cocaine works alongside a specialist drugs offences solicitor who can carefully examine the evidence and make representations on their behalf.
What is the law regarding possession of cocaine?
Under section 5 of the Misuse of drugs Act (MDA) 1971, it is a criminal offence for anyone to be in possession of a controlled drug, such as cocaine. This all depends on where you get caught.
For someone to be convicted of a drugs-related offence, the prosecution needs to be able to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, the following:
the substance in question is a controlled drug,
it was in the defendant’s custody or control, and
the defendant knew, or could have reasonably known, of the existence of the drug
Under section 37(3) of the MDA 1971, possession can also include contexts where the drugs in question are in the custody of another person but are subject to the defendant’s control. Some countries have more relaxed rules towards consumption of cocaine such as Portugal, Columbia, Peru....
What penalties can you face for possession of cocaine?
The penalties for drug offences will depend on the type of drug in question, the amount found in someone’s possession and whether they are found to be dealing or producing it.
The penalties for possessing any amount of cocaine can be very strict. In the vast majority of instances, the police will take immediate action, starting with an arrest, followed by further questioning. Even the smallest amount of cocaine warrants an arrest.
Possession of cocaine will lead to a maximum of seven years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. ‘Possession with intent to supply’ and ‘production of cocaine’ are much more serious offences, which usually lead to more serious sentences. The maximum penalty for production and supply of cocaine is life in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
When might you be found guilty of possession with intent to supply cocaine?
Prosecutors will rely on various pieces of evidence if they intend to charge you with possession with intent to supply cocaine. The typical evidence that prosecutors will rely on includes:
Large quantities of cocaine that suggest more than ‘personal use’
‘Uncut’ cocaine which appears to have been obtained directly from a manufacturer
Possession of various different drugs
Evidence that the cocaine has been prepared for sale
Possession of large amounts of cash
Written documents, such as lists of customers names and details
Mobile phones or other devices that contain material relating to drugs supply
It is important to note that the actual act of supplying does not need to have taken place to prosecute someone for this offence. The ‘intention’ to supply is the key.
What happens if you didn’t know you were in possession of cocaine?
There may be certain situations where you are caught with cocaine, but you did not know, or have reason to suspect, that you were in possession. For example, you may have been given a jacket to wear, without knowing that the jacket contained cocaine, or you believe cocaine was planted on your person without your knowledge.
In Warner v Metropolitan Police Commissioner  2 All ER 356, Lord Wilberforce emphasised that cases involving drug possession would turn on their facts and the jury needed to consider:
how and when the container was received
did the defendant have the opportunity to discover the true contents
how much access did the defendant have to the vessel
If you believe that cocaine was planted on you by someone else, it is vital that you consult expert legal advice at the earliest opportunity, so you can make sure you have the strongest defence case possible.
What are your rights if you are arrested for possession of cocaine?
If you are caught in possession of cocaine, or any other Class A controlled drug, you will likely be arrested and taken to a police station for further questioning - even if it is your first offence for possession of Class A drugs.
If the police arrest you, they are required to caution you by using the following words: “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”
The police must explain exactly why you are being arrested and the exact crime they believe you have committed.
You should never answer any questions from the police without a solicitor present.
After a police interview, the police will give you a caution and allow you to leave, or you will be charged and released on bail. A date will then be set for your court appearance.