5 / 4 / 2024

A New Approach: Criminal Infringement Notices for Drug Possession

As of 29 February 2024, NSW police officers can issue Criminal Infringement Notices (CIN) to individuals found in possession of a small quantities of prohibited drugs. This change comes as part of a pre-court diversion scheme, offering an alternative to the traditional way in which minor drug offences are dealt with.

Prior to this scheme commencing, if a person was found in possession of a prohibited drug, a Court Attendance Notice (CAN) was issued. A CAN requires an accused to attend court to have the criminal charge dealt with. On a plea of guilty to the charge, a sentence is imposed. The maximum penalty for possessing a prohibited drug is two years imprisonment and/ or a fine of $2,200.00.

What is a Criminal Infringement Notice?

A Criminal Infringement Notice is an on-the-spot fine for minor offences. It allows police to issue fines without the need for a court appearance, streamlining the process for both law enforcement and individuals involved. Under the scheme, the fine for possessing a prohibited drug is $400.00.

Eligibility and Scope

The pre-court diversion scheme applies to individuals who are eligible to participate, offering them a chance to avoid a criminal conviction for drug possession. However, it is important to note that the scheme is not applicable to more serious drug-related offences such as manufacturing or supplying prohibited drugs. It will be up to police as to whether they deem it more appropriate in the circumstances to issue a CIN or a CAN so that the matter is dealt with in court.

The Benefits of the Scheme

Aside from the obvious benefits of access to programs and support, one of the significant benefits of the pre-court diversion scheme is the reduction in the risk of having a criminal conviction recorded. Previously, being charged with drug possession could result in a conviction being recorded, potentially impacting future employment opportunities, travel options and reputation. With the introduction of CINs, individuals who pay the associated fines will not have a criminal conviction recorded against their name, although any paid infringements will show up in a criminal infringement history check.

Program Incentives

Under the scheme, individuals issued with a CIN are required to attend a drug and alcohol intervention program. Successfully completing the program results in the waiver of fines associated with the CIN. However, failure to complete the program will require the fines to be paid.

Limitations and Exclusions

There are limitations to the scheme. For instance, individuals previously convicted of supplying prohibited drugs or those who have already received two CINs for drug possession are not eligible for the program.

Looking forward

The introduction of Criminal Infringement Notices for drug possession in NSW represents a significant shift in how minor drug offences are handled. By offering an alternative to the traditional court process, the pre-court diversion scheme recognises that coming into contact with the criminal justice system can often lead to a downward spiral for people with drug dependency issues. The scheme encourages engagement with targeted programs and health services with a view to addressing underlying health and mental health issues. Should the program be successful, it will reduce the burden on the court system while providing individuals with an opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction.

Helen Christinson, Partner