What penalties do the courts really hand-down for drug possession charges?

Information on this page was reviewed by a specialist defence lawyer before being published. Click to read more.
Ecstasy supply and possession

Ever wondered what the penalties are for drug possession ?

Not the maximum penalties – but the penalties that are really handed-down by the courts?

It might surprise you that most people who are guilty of drug possession receive criminal convictions.

The most common penalty imposed in the local courts was a fine – 13,911 out of 23,549 cases. A fine carries a criminal record.

This certainly raised a few eyebrows at our firm.

Perhaps our surprise is partly due to our experience and knowledge of the law, including the decisions of the High Court of Australia in The Queen v Adams and the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in R v Maugher – which are heavily relied upon by good criminal lawyers to maximise the prospects of avoiding criminal convictions in drug cases by achieving ‘section 10 dismissals or conditional release orders’.

The statistics are all-the-more surprising given the enormous amount of information available about ‘how to get a non conviction order in drug possession cases’.

Just doing a Google search will bring up a whole host of informative website pages and blogs from a number of criminal law firms.

You can access some of our information by clicking on the following links:

That information can assist anyone to prepare for their court date, even if they can’t afford a lawyer or just want to represent themselves.

I certainly don’t want to ‘jinx’ myself or appear to be on a high horse, but I cannot remember a first-time guilty plea where I didn’t achieve a non conviction order for a client in a small drug possession case eg 3 or 4 ecstacy pills, a couple of grams of cocaine etc.

And I’ve undertaken dozens over the past year alone, and many hundred over my career.

Like my fellow senior lawyers, I will always make sure that I am fully prepared before going into court for a client in any criminal or traffic case – however minor or serious it might be.

After all, a criminal conviction can have drastic consequences on my client’s career, their reputation and, in some cases, their ability to travel.

I took a closer look through the statistics and, yes, a fine was also very common (although not nearly as common as a non conviction order) in cases where the defendant:

  1. had no previous convictions at all, and
  2. pleaded guilty – rather than being found guilty after a defended hearing .

In fact, 2,130 out of 6,390 first time offenders who pleaded guilty were given fines (and therefore criminal convictions).

4,531 were given non conviction order good behaviour bonds or section 10(1)(a) dismissals.

I ran those statistics past our other senior lawyers and they were astounded at how many first time offenders with no previous convictions were given fines/convictions for drug possession.

They put it down to a range of factors including inadequate preparation, poor knowledge of the leading case-law and mediocre presentation.

Perhaps they’re right.

Whatever the case may be, you can certainly increase your chances of avoiding a conviction for drug possession by taking the time and making the effort to thoroughly prepare for court.

The right steps can make all the difference!

So if you’ve been charged with drug possession, call us anytime on (02) 9261 8881 to arrange a free first conference with an experienced defence lawyer who will advise you of your options, the best way forward and fight for the best possible outcome.


Last updated on

Receive all of our articles weekly


Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

Your Opinion Matters