Cannabis Campaign: Busted? You can still avoid a criminal record

But steady nerves are required to refuse a caution
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The Independent Online
THIS year, more than 40,000 people will be cautioned for cannabis offences, but many could escape with a lesser charge.

The increased use of cautions is not restricted to drugs offences. Its purpose is to avoid wasting police and court time on petty offenders. So how does the system work in practice and what should you do if cautioned?

A serving police officer, whose identity is known to the IoS but cannot be named, has revealed the truth about cautions. The officer says a caution is a contract which most offenders accept without reading the small print.

What is a caution?

A caution is a criminal conviction of limited duration. Acceptance indicates that the individual has waived his or her right to a defence and, in return, the state waives its right to punish. A caution is recorded on the police national computer and remains there for five years (three for juveniles). This can have an adverse effect on applications for certain jobs, university places and travel visas to some countries.

Do you have to accept a caution?

No. A caution is not a pre-requisite to release. It requires the prisoner to actively acknowledge guilt. But once it has been decided that a caution is the most appropriate way of dealing with an offence, the police cannot revert to a more serious charge.

The decision to caution is not arbitrary. The arresting officer must refer to the Case Disposal Manual, which awards points for factors of an offence - attempts to avoid arrest, intent to supply etc. The points are added up and it is this tally, not the whim of an officer, that dictates how a case is dealt with. If the points equate to a caution, they cannot be pushed up the scale to a charge simply because you decline to accept culpability. To accept a caution, you must accept guilt and your acceptance or rebuttal can have no bearing on how the law perceives you should be dealt with.

Should I accept the caution and have done with it?

For some the answer is yes: if you can live with a criminal conviction, and do not intend to emigrate or apply for a position from which a criminal conviction would disqualify you. But everyone should consider the matter carefully. A cautionwill ensure that you are charged with the offence if you are arrested again.

What will happen if you refuse?

If you refuse, the law ordains that you must be given a Formal Warning or that the case be No Further Actioned. A Formal Warning does not require your consent and you are not required to sign for it. It is recorded locally only and will have no influence on how you are dealt with at a later date in court. It does not establish your guilt and it is not a conviction. However, if you decide to play thistrump card, you would be well advised to have a solicitor present when the caution is offered.

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