People go to jail every day in New Jersey because they have been charged and convicted of drug crimes. If you use, buy, sell, or transport illicit drugs and don’t think you are at risk of losing your liberty, you are kidding yourself.
If anyone or anything in your life touches on illegal drug use, you need to know what to do if you are charged with a drug crime in New Jersey. You need to know, for example, that you can be charged in New Jersey for being under the influence of illegal drugs, or for improperly handling certain powerful prescription drugs, such as Percocet, Ritalin or Oxycodone.
The best advice we can give you is to stay away from illegal drugs and to keep strict control of any drugs you have been prescribed. However, if you assume the risk of using illegal drugs and making dangerous controlled substances a part of your life, you need to understand what to do if you are arrested.
Here are 5 things you need to know before you are charged with a drug crime in New Jersey:
You need to protect yourself from a criminal conviction to the extent possible
Under the best circumstances, being found guilty of a drug offense in New Jersey is costly. Just possession of most illegal drugs could bring a fine of up to $15,000 to $35,000. Years after a drug crime conviction, it can keep you from getting a job, going to college, obtaining credit or a bank loan, or even renting a place to live.
No drug-related arrest should be taken lightly, and you have legal rights that protect you in the event of an arrest. Do not consent to a search of your person, your vehicle or your home. You should state clearly that you do not consent, but do not try to stop a law enforcement officer from conducting a search. Once you have been arrested, respond to police as necessary to provide your name, address, and phone number. Otherwise, you should ask to contact an attorney and decline to answer questions until your lawyer is present.
You could go to jail for a drug crime
Drug possession in New Jersey is a third-degree offense in most cases, punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison. This applies to Schedule I, II, III or IV controlled dangerous substances, as well as counterfeit versions of such drugs. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug but is treated differently. Possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana (1.76 ounces) is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine. Drug sales, distribution and manufacturing are more harshly punished.
Multiple or subsequent charges, or special circumstances make things much worse
If you have already been convicted of a drug offense, the penalties you face for a second or subsequent charge might be doubled. Penalties are also more severe if you were arrested for allegedly committing a drug crime at a school or on a school bus (which many teens charged with drug offenses don’t realize until too late), a public housing project or in a public park.
You could be charged with selling drugs if you were allegedly in possession of a large quantity of drugs or paraphernalia such as scales and baggies when you were arrested. Prosecutors will often file as many charges as possible, sometimes just to intimidate a defendant.
New Jersey allows non-violent offenders to seek rehabilitation instead of jail
Though New Jersey courts are quick to punish drug offenders, they will recognize and work with individuals who show a desire to get clean and go straight.
There are two diversion programs available through NJ courts for first-time, nonviolent offenders willing to proceed under strict supervision. One is pre-trial intervention (PTI) followed by 1 to 3 years of supervision, which may include a requirement to complete substance abuse rehabilitation. The second is probation through New Jersey’s Drug Court, which requires substance abuse testing, rehab and continued participation in a 12-step group. Drug Court also offers counseling and other assistance with job training, education and health care.
New Jersey has a similar diversion program for military service members or retirees accused of nonviolent crimes who have a diagnosed or demonstrated mental illness. If you complete a diversion program, you may get the drug charges removed from your record.
You need an attorney to fight a New Jersey drug charge. Between the time someone is arrested and charged with a drug offense and when they are convicted, there is an opportunity to gather evidence and build an effective defense. In most cases, there are some opportunities to avoid a conviction or to reduce the penalty if there’s no escaping conviction. But you must have an experienced drug crime defense attorney representing you.
Without a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer, you will be at a decided disadvantage in the New Jersey criminal justice system and be at the mercy of the prosecutors. A lot of criminal defense work is a matter of having the resources to investigate a case and develop a defense strategy, as well as the experience to recognize opportunities for the defendant when they arise. Courtroom experience that has led to professional relationships and a good reputation also adds strength to a criminal defense.
Contact the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall
The NJ drug crimes attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can provide the legal advocacy you need if you are facing drug charges in New Jersey. We have one of the state’s biggest and most experienced criminal defense teams and we staff six offices across the state. We have the skills and resources to devote to seeking the best available outcome for you if you have been charged with a drug crime in New Jersey.
Contact us today to set up a free initial consultation and to begin the work necessary to protect you from the serious consequences of a New Jersey drug crime conviction.