Column

Title: The Community Service Prohibition

Written by: André Beckers

In 2012 a community service prohibition was carried into effect. Line of thought within the politics was that Dutch criminal law Judges were softies. With all kind of bad example the crime fighters in the Hague pointed out that you shouldn’t offer the Judges a lot of room when it comes to punishing criminals. Rapists allegedly were punished by allowing them to hoe weeds next to the public roads for a few hours. That shouldn’t be possible right? Of course that didn’t really happen. In politics lying has become established, so nobody pointed it out. Also, often wrongly, would you hear “look at our neighbouring countries”. They punish more severe. That’s not normal, right? In reality the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In Belgium for example, a jail sentence up to 3 years isn’t carried out until 2/3 of the sentence has been served (such as the Netherlands) but only 1/3 of the sentence has to be served. In Belgium when someone is sentenced to a jail sentence of three years only one year has to be served. In the Netherlands you have to carry out 2 years. In Germany a longer provisional jail sentence can be meted out to a German than in the Netherlands. If you compare the imposed sentences these are things you must take into account. These kind of nuances are lacking from the political views.
Why am I writing a column on the community service prohibition? The prohibition is surely only for crimes such as murder, manslaughter and child pornography? I wish. In cannabis related cases you can also encounter the prohibition of community service! Imagine that in 2013 you were a suspect in a cannabis related crime. In september 2014 the judge convicts you to 120 hours community services and 1 month provisional jail sentence with a probationary period of 2 years. In september 2016 you thought you were relieved of everything. In hindsight the 120 hours community service weren’t so bad. In the beginning you were ashamed when you had your intake with the parole officer. During the first few hours of caring out the community service you felt unsettled. Will anyone recognize me and what will people think of me? I am not a criminal. The only thing I did was cultivate a product that the government allows to be sold in coffee shops. What is wrong with that?
In the end the people you had to work with were all right. The community service supervisor seemed interested in your personal interests and everybody acted normal. Not seldom do people who cultivate cannabis, who have been sentenced to community service, think that a judge will do so time and time again. The law does not allow this. Imagine that you start to cultivate cannabis again and again you get caught. If it turns out that you have been convicted with in the past 5 years to community service and you have completed the community service, you have a big problem. The judge must conclude that you haven’t learnt your lesson. The judge is required to sentence you to a jail sentence without probation. If you are lucky the police didn’t send you straight home after questioning, but instead has locked you up. In that case the jail sentence, most likely, will be equal to the time you were locked up. In that case you will be convicted to a jail sentence that you have already completed. If that isn’t the case the judge will send you to jail. That can be for a short period of time, but that is not necessarily the case. In short, if you have been convicted to community service for cultivating cannabis, you can’t automatically count on repetition. After community service the door to prison is slightly ajar.
Translated by Joanna McKernan. Joanna works as a Lawyer for the law firm Beckers & Bergmans in Sittard. She is a native English speaker. Joanna has a lot of experience in cannabis related civil cases.

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