Georgia Law: Your High School Student Has Been Arrested for Possessing Marijuana. What Now?
What can parents expect if their student, who's never been in trouble before, is arrested for possessing marijuana? In this short piece, I outline options that may be available to help your student deal with their problems and start over.
The Drama Begins * But It Doesn*t Have to be A TragedyWhile many states around the country are decriminalizing or even legalizing marijuana, Georgia is not one of those states. And, though the political climate is changing with respect to people*s attitudes about marijuana, in my opinion, it will still be many years before Georgia sees either decriminalization or legalization.
So, let*s consider a fairly straight forward scenario * one that parents don*t want to think about * but that does happen. Your child is arrested for possessing marijuana. How did that happen? Maybe it was at a party that disturbed the neighbors, the police were called * and they had a joint in their shirt pocket. Maybe they were driving and, while texting or otherwise not paying attention, swerved out of their lane and drew the attention of a police officer * and they had marijuana in the car. Are there other ways that the arrest could occur? You bet. Let*s never underestimate our kids ability to mess up. Royally.
Now, you, the parent, had no idea your kid was experimenting with marijuana. You have a billion questions about why they*re doing such a thing. Where did you go wrong? Did you go wrong? They*re a good student, never been in trouble more than the usual kid-related stuff, go to church, volunteer at a food bank. And now they*ve gone and done this! Now what happens to their plans to go to college? What about jobs? Is this arrest going to follow them around for the rest of their lives?
There is Light at the End of the Legal TunnelThe good news is, in most cases, especially when your student has never been in trouble like this before, there are programs for having the charges dismissed. In Georgia, the prosecutors for the various districts throughout the state are authorized to have a Pretrial Intervention and Diversion Program. If your student qualifies * as based upon what they were arrested for and their criminal history * then by completing the terms of the program * not only will their charges be dropped, but they may have their criminal history restricted. This is what people often call *expungement.*
Here in Cobb County where my office is located, first time drug possession offenses * even for felony amounts and for drugs besides marijuana * can be handled through our Diversion program. Not only do our Solicitor General and District Attorney offer Diversion, but so do many of the local municipalities. But, be aware * it is a lot of work * for your student. Often times there is substantial community service to complete, as well as getting a drug and alcohol evaluation and treatment if it is deemed appropriate. Shoplifting charges require attendance at a loss prevention class. There are administrative fees that can be substantial. These are just some of the things that may be required of your student. And, your student must be represented by an attorney to participate.
What*s the Attorney*s Job in Diversion?When I represent a family*s son or daughter that is Diversion eligible, I don*t just have them fill out the application, get them accepted into the program, and then leave them to hopefully do what they*re supposed to. There is some degree of hand-holding. That is not to say I or the family do the work for the student. Diversion is a good time to learn some hard lessons, take responsibility, and earn this second chance. But, a support network of people who care is still vital to success.
And, I still examine the State*s evidence. I still review the facts of the arrest, read the police reports, watch the videos, as well as review any other evidence that may be available. Just because your student was arrested doesn*t mean they are in fact guilty. They may well be. But either way, knowing what the State is basing the charges upon is important to know.
How will Successful Completion of Diversion Help Your Student * and What Will It Not Do?When Diversion is completed, the charges are dismissed. And, here in Cobb County, their record is restricted. But while people often use the word *expunge* to talk about this, I prefer the word restricted. Why? Because to me, expungement sounds like the arrest and everything that goes along with it has been erased from your student*s criminal history. And maybe that is the way things should work. But it*s not the way it does work.
The fact is, upon completion of Diversion, barring some other history, your student will be able to say truthfully they have never been convicted of a crime. But, they can*t say they*ve never been arrested. And even though their criminal history will appear clean to many, certain government agencies, law enforcement entities, and categories of employer, will be able to learn of the arrest. So, the fact is, some jobs may be off limits * at least for some time * even after Diversion. And, there is the complicating issue of private companies that may have collected information about the arrest and are now reporting it even after Diversion. That is something an experienced attorney can help you deal with as well.
So, Diversion is a really good option when appropriate and available. But, it is not a magic wand that makes mistakes go away entirely. There may still be complications with which your student has to deal. But, I have helped families and their students through this process and am happy to report that these young men and women have gone on to the college of their choice, landed good jobs, and have learned from their mistakes. For arrests, Diversion is the closest thing to a true second chance in Georgia.
Even when Diversion is not available, don*t give up hope. There are other things experienced criminal defense attorneys do to help their young clients deal with their issues so they can get their lives back.
If you have any other questions about Diversion in Georgia, or other criminal defense questions, please call me at 770-870-4994 or email me at [email protected]
Copyright * Alan J. Levine