How long does a drug offence stay on my criminal record?

Sydney Criminal Lawyers


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A drug conviction will generally stay on your record until you serve a crime free period, when it is deleted.
Australia Criminal Law
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Having to go to court for a drug offence can be daunting, and you may be concerned about the implications of pleading guilty or being found guilty of an offence such as drug possession or drug supply

Your concerns may include the impact on your present employment or future career prospects, your ability to travel and your standing amongst friends, colleagues and loved-ones.

But rest assured, while it is sometimes said that a criminal conviction is a permanent stain on your reputation, the fact of the matter is most state as well as Commonwealth drug convictions will be removed from a National Police Check after a crime free period.

This article provides an overview of drug offences before delving into the question of how long a conviction or finding of guilt that does not proceed to conviction – such as a section 10 dismissal or good behaviour bond – stay on your criminal record.

Range of drug offences

In Australia, drug offences range from possessing a prohibited drug, which is also known as drug possession, to large commercial drug supply, manufacture or production, and commercial drug importation.

The penalties for these offences range from on-the-spot fines for first time small quantity drug possession all the way up to life in prison for certain commercial supply cases.

At the lowest end of the scale, an individual can be given an on-the-spot fine for possessing up to the following quantities of prohibited drugs:

  • Up to 0.25 grams of MDMA/ecstasy,
  • Up to 1 gram of amphetamines, cocaine, or heroin, or
  • Up to 30 grams of cannabis.

Alternatively, a police officer can send a person to court for drug possession, in which case the maximum penalty is 2 years in prison.

At the other end of the scale, supplying a large commercial quantity of a prohibited drug carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. This quantity is:

  • At least 500 grams of MDMA/ecstasy,
  • At least 1 kilogram of amphetamines, cocaine, or heroin, or
  • At least 100 kilograms of cannabis.

While the above offences are New South Wales state offences, importing or exporting a border controlled drug, usually referred to as drug importation, is a Commonwealth offence and applies across Australia.

Importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug comes with a maximum penalty of life in prison. This quantity is:

  • At least 500 grams of MDMA/ecstasy,
  • At least 750 grams amphetamines, 
  • At least 1.5 kilograms of heroin, 
  • At least 2 kilograms of cocaine, or
  • At least 25 kilograms of cannabis.

Of course, the maximum penalties are just that and presiding judges and magistrates have discretion to impose any of a range of penalties, including non-conviction orders such as section 10 dismissals and conditional release orders (a form of good behaviour bond) without conviction, conditional release orders with conviction, section 10A orders (conviction with no further penalty), fines (which come with a conviction), community correction orders (another more serious bond), intensive correction orders (an even more serious bond which can come with onerous condition, and shorter prison sentences than the maximum.

It is important to also be aware that while New South Wales state offences are based on the admixture of the drug (impure quantity), Commonwealth offences are measured by the pure quantity of drug contained in the admixture.

National Police Checks

A National Police Check (NPC) is often required as a condition of commencing employment or obtaining any of a number of licences, such as security licences, firearms licences or industry licences.

With written permission, any employer can request an NPC on a potential employee's behalf during the interview and recruitment process. 

Any New South Wales resident aged 14 years and older can apply for an NPC

The details in the NPC include:

  • Criminal charges,
  • “Unspent” convictions for criminal offences,
  • Unexpired good behaviour bonds for findings of guilt with no convictions, and
  • Unfinalised criminal court proceedings.

Individuals and job seekers can apply for their own NPC by filling out an online application and paying a fee online or at the police station. At the time of writing, a criminal record check costs $55.90 for a national name and date of birth or $188.10 for a national name, date of birth, and fingerprint check. 

So, How Long Does a Drug Offence Stay on My Record?

A conviction or finding of guilt for a drug offence will generally stay on your record until you serve a crime free period – ie have a period of not committing a criminal offence – after which it becomes a ‘spent conviction'; which means it is deleted from the record.

The relevant crime free period for adults who commit drug offences such as drug possession, supply, manufacture, production or cultivation is 10 years.

The period for those under the age of 18 years is generally 3 years.

The time will restart if another criminal offence is committed during the crime free period.

However, there are exceptions to the scheme whereby the record will remain permanently.

In the context of New South Wales drug offences, these include where a person is sentenced to imprisonment for more than 

For Commonwealth offences, it includes where a person is sentenced to imprisonment for more than 30 months.

So there you have it: a drug offence will normally deleted from a National Police Check after 10 years.

However, it should also be said that convictions and findings of guilt will not disappear from every criminal background check – they will appear permanently for full background checks such as bail reports, but this may be of little relevance as most employers will not have access to these reports.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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