Why cocaine users often escape conviction

For proven offenders in 2020 without any convictions in the previous five years, those who came before the courts on cocaine use or possession avoided a conviction in 80 per cent of cases, compared to 44 per cent for amphetamines and 36 per cent for opiates.

“It is still possible that there are underlying characteristics contributing to that. You can see that amphetamine offenders’ reoffending rate is much higher,” says BOCSAR executive director Jackie Fitzgerald, cautioning the data might not tell the full story.

The data shows the recidivism risk for amphetamine and opiate users is far greater than for cocaine users. Of amphetamine offenders in court in 2018, 47 per cent reoffended within a year. Cocaine offenders reoffended in only 10 per cent of cases.

“I feel sorry for the meth users – it’s extremely unfair,” a senior NSW Police officer says.

“You have got to understand people using meth, most of the time, have other issues involved in their lives. Whereas cocaine – that’s a choice. And it doesn’t have that stigma attached. They just pay for it with daddy’s money. But that money is still funding organised crime. That’s the bottom line.”

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Another officer says ice is more addictive and destructive for users, linked to violence and offences to fund the habit, meaning users will inevitably end up in court more often.

“The other thing is that people who do cocaine more than likely can afford a good lawyer. If somebody’s got that, they always end up with lower sentences,” the officer says.

“Heroin and meth junkies aren’t turning up with a QC.”

Mr Juweinat says people addicted to drugs like ice often have stories that should provide compelling context for their offending and attract sympathy from magistrates and judges.

“More often than not, they are very tragic and to some degree horrific. There is no reason why the underprivileged and impoverished are not entitled to the same benefits [as affluent people] notwithstanding their profession,” he says.

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Defence lawyer Paul McGirr highlights the difference in the criminal records of the average cocaine and ice offender, saying the courts are correctly weighing up the varying reoffending risks.

“Using the example of ice and cocaine, they are normally treated a little bit differently,” he says. “I don’t think they have got it wrong. Most people I do for possession of drugs are normally, in this day and age, put on a non-conviction bond and very rarely do I see those people committing the same offence again.”

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