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What is the sentence for being concerned in the Supply of Class A Drugs?

drug deal

If you have been charged with the supply of Class A drugs, you are probably feeling anxious about the impending criminal proceedings. You might be also asking yourself if there are any defences available to you and the length of the sentence you could be facing. Individuals charged with this offence range from small-time dealers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time to organised criminals who turn over huge sums of money. In 2020, 3.4% of adults in the UK admitted to using Class A drugs in the past year. Simply put, the illegal trade in Class A drugs is substantial in the UK. The seriousness of this offence varies widely depending on the circumstances, and significantly upon the volume of drugs involved. Consequently, the quantity of drugs involved in the transaction has a strong influence over the kind of jail time you could be facing.

What is the offence of being concerned in the supply of class a drugs?

The offence of being concerned in the supply of drugs is set out in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The relevant part of the Act is Section 4(3)b. To succeed in proving this offence, the prosecution must convince the court that:

  • The drug has been supplied to another;
  • The defendant was involved in the supply; and,
  • That the defendant knew the nature of the enterprise, namely that it involved the supply of drugs.

According to the CPS, ‘the offences of being concerned will cover conduct which is preparatory to the actual supply, although the prosecution must prove that a supply… has been made.’

Section 4(3)C also makes it an offence to be concerned in the making of an offer to supply a Class A drug.

The courts of England and Wales have considered what the term ‘supply’ means in the context of this offence. They have concluded that it has a broader meaning than simply delivery.

Instead, it refers to the whole process of supply. For example, a person could be convicted of this offence even if the drugs had never reached their intended recipient – perhaps due to interception by the police. In a key case on this question, the judge referred to text messages organising the supply; the fact that the drugs were being transported by car from one city to another; and the fact that the quantity of drugs in the car was clearly not for personal possession, as evidence of ‘supply.’

What are some examples of the offence of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs?

  • Where the police stop a car of people, and find one person carrying a supply of class A drugs. If they can prove that the other individuals in the car were involved in transporting the drugs to supply them to another person, they could be charged with being concerned with the supply of class A drugs.
  • Where a person participates in the supply of drugs e.g. by making phone calls to another drug dealer to assist in procuring the drugs.
  • If members of a criminal gang are intercepted during a drug deal. There is evidence that they were participating in the drug transaction, but they manage to conceal the drugs so they cannot be charged with the supply of the drugs.

What is the maximum sentence for being concerned in the supply of class A drugs?

The maximum sentence is a life sentence. However, most cases will not receive such a harsh penalty. In less serious cases, you could receive a community order. When deciding what sentence to impose, the court will consider the culpability (blameworthiness) of the defendant and the harm caused to the victim.

Culpability will be determined by looking at how significant the role of the defendant was in the offence. The level of harm caused is usually determined largely on the quantity of drugs which are sold. However, where the offence is street dealing or sale of drugs in prison, quantity is taken to be less indicative of the harm caused, therefore the starting point is not quantity.

For example, for the sale of 5kg of cocaine where the defendant played a leading role, the starting point for a sentence is 14 years custody. This could be increased or decreased by aggravated or mitigating factors. Meanwhile, if the quantity of cocaine was 5g or less, and the defendant played a lesser role, the starting point for the sentence would be 18 months custody, however they might be lucky enough to walk away with a community sentence.

More details on sentencing guidelines can be found here. If you are seeking advice regarding the likely sentence you will receive, you should seek advice from a criminal defence solicitor who will be able to advise you on the specific facts of your case.

Are there any defences available to being concerned in the supply of class A drugs?

Specific defences

The Misuse of Drugs Act gives two specific statutory defences under Section 28. The first relates to proof of lack of knowledge. The defendant must show that:

‘they neither knew of nor suspected nor had reason to suspect the existence of some fact alleged by the prosecution which it is necessary for the prosecution to prove if he is to be convicted of the offence charged.’

It is also a defence under the Act if the defendant can prove that they did not suspect or did they have reason to believe that the substance in their possession was a controlled drug.

Furthermore, it is a defence if they prove that they believed the substance to be a controlled drug of such a description, that if it had been that drug, they would not have been committing an offence.

General defences

You may also be able to rely on a general defence.

  • Duress: If your involvement in the supply of drugs occurred because you were forced or pressurised by someone or a group of people, you may be able to rely on this defence. This could apply if you are in a gang, other gang members threatened you, and you reasonably feared death or serious injury if you did not participate in a drug deal. The court will consider whether a reasonable person in your position would have responded to the coercion in the same way.
  • Necessity: Similar to duress, this is where you were forced by a set of circumstances to commit an offence. You would need to show that you reasonably believed that participating in the drug deal was necessary in order to prevent harm or serious injury to yourself or another.
  • Insanity: If you suffered from a mental illness at the time of the offence that meant that you did not understand what you were doing was against the law, you may be able to rely on this defence. You will need medical evidence from a psychiatrist to prove that you suffered from a recognised mental illness.
  • Mistake: This defence relates to circumstances where you were mistaken as to certain facts and would not have committed the offence if you had known the true and real version of events. This is similar to the statutory defences outlined above. You will not be able to successfully defend your claim by stating that you believed the drug to be a different controlled drug to the one that it was e.g. if you believed it to be cocaine and not heroin.
  • Prevention of crime or to conduct a lawful arrest: If you can show that you were planning to intercept the drug deal to provide the drugs to the police, or to apprehend those involved in the deal, you may be able to mount a successful defence.
  • Automatism: If you were not aware of your actions when participating in the drug deal, you may be able to rely upon the defence of automatism. This defence only applies in rare circumstances. Generally, this defence does not apply if you were under the voluntary influence of alcohol or illicit drugs.

If you believe that one of these defences may apply to your case, seek the advice of a criminal defence solicitor who will advise you on your options.

Where to get further help

If you have been charged with being concerned with the supply of class A drugs, seek advice from a specialist criminal defence solicitor without delay. Regardless of if you intend to plead guilty or not guilty, the right advice could make all the difference. Whether we are assisting you in mounting a defence, or in putting together a plea of mitigation to reduce your sentence, at Stuart Miller Solicitors you will receive top quality legal representation. Contact us today for a no obligation consultation today.


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