In most illegal drug cases, street values are quoted in court, but why? Whilst there are many arguments to be had regarding purity, regional price variations and bulk purchase discounts, until sentencing happens street values are essentially used for effect, and even then do not feature in the sentencing guidelines.
After sentencing, a Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) application may be made to seize assets and consider benefit derived from criminal conduct. It is now that the value of the drugs seized becomes critical, adding directly to the benefit figure.
This can be clear cut in many cases – a kilogram of cannabis skunk has a realistic market value of x which is directly added to the benefit figure. This applies if the cannabis was physically seized in a marketable form. However, in POCA applications following conviction for production of cannabis, we commonly see the value of a potential yield from immature plants being used as the benefit figure.
This approach is contrary to the Act, which says that the market value at the time of seizure or at the time of the POCA hearing should be used to assess likely benefit. This also applies to seizures of import-purity powdered drugs that could have, but had not yet, been adulterated to street level. It is important, therefore, to make sure that you are working with the right valuation.
In a number of recent cases we have successfully challenged excessively-high benefit figures by providing realistic market values consistent with the drugs or plants as seized.
Richard Brown BSc(Hons), Forensic Scientist, Drugs and Toxicology