Illicit drugs such as marijuana, meth, cocaine, LSD, heroin, etc., are illegal to possess at any age. Anyone caught with them can face serious punishment. However, New Jersey law does allow the courts to deal differently with juvenile offenders (those charged before their 18th birthday) than with adults. Rather than being found guilty of a crime, a juvenile offender may be adjudicated delinquent.
With proper legal representation, a juvenile drug possession defendant can avoid some of the harshest penalties that New Jersey law metes out for juvenile drug offenses such as detention at a juvenile facility. New Jersey offers prosecutors the opportunity to steer juvenile defendants out of the court system if the defendant approaches the court properly. The New Jersey juvenile drug possession attorneys of the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can help a juvenile defendant and his or her family seek the best resolution of juvenile drug charges.
Our attorneys are former New Jersey prosecutors and public defenders who now handle criminal cases exclusively. We have the knowledge, experience and ability to devise strategic defense strategies that greatly benefit juvenile drug crime defendants. We can help your child avoid an outcome in court that could ruin their future educational and employment opportunities.
Across the state, individuals and families turn to our law firm for help fighting drug possession charges. Contact us today at (877) 450-8301 to set up a free initial consultation at one of our offices across New Jersey.
Juvenile Offenders and Penalties for Drug Possession in New Jersey
New Jersey’s drug possession law states that “It is unlawful for any person, knowingly or purposely, to obtain, or to possess, actually or constructively, a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog …”
Possession of illicit drugs and certain prescription drugs without a valid prescription in New Jersey is a third-degree offense in most cases. It is punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $35,000. This applies to Schedule I, II, III or IV controlled dangerous substances, as well as counterfeit versions of such drugs and their analogs, or closely matching substitutes.
Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug but is treated differently. In New Jersey, possession of 50 grams (1.76 ounces) or less of marijuana or 5 grams or less of hashish is a disorderly persons charge punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of more than 50 grams is a fourth-degree offense punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $25,000.
Drug possession charges filed against a juvenile with no prior record should be directed to family court. In family court, charges are heard by a judge without a jury. The courtroom is closed and no one other than those directly involved with the case are allowed in the courtroom. This is known as an “adjudication hearing.” The record is sealed.
An underage defendant who is adjudicated delinquent in family court may face up to two years in a juvenile detention facility instead of a jail and thousands of dollars in fines. Those with lesser sentences may be ordered to participate in community service and to attend an outpatient substance abuse rehabilitation program. For charges of possession of a small amount of marijuana, probation and a fine are likely.
Juveniles May Be Tried As Adults for Drug Possession
Prosecutors may decide an underage defendant charged with drug possession should be tried as an adult. This is more likely for cases involving a juvenile who:
- Has been previously convicted of drug crimes or other offenses
- Is found in possession of large amounts of drugs or multiple drugs
- Has been charged with additional offenses, particularly a violent crime
- Is almost 18 years old.
Adult court may involve a jury trial. It puts the full range of New Jersey’s drug possession penalties on the table.
Many times, a juvenile’s drug possession charges are sent to adult court because the alleged crime occurred at or near a school or on a school bus. New Jersey law makes it a separate crime to possess with intent to distribute illicit drugs on school property. A charge of intention to distribute drugs is not the same as possession. Prosecutors can pursue “intention to distribute” charges at their discretion. Conviction could bring 5 to 20 years in prison, depending on the drugs involved, and a fine of up to $150,000.
Typically, a charge of intent to distribute may be added to drug possession charges when a large quantity of drugs is involved. The charge is even more likely in a case originating on school property simply because the law exists. However, a drug crimes attorney experienced in New Jersey courts can stop these charges from moving forward when a juvenile is improperly charged.
Steering Juvenile Drug Charges Toward Discharge or Diversion
As your drug possession attorneys, our first objective is to have the charges against your child dismissed. There are many potential problems with a drug possession arrest and prosecution that can lead to a dismissal. We may be able to show that police had a lack of probable cause to make an arrest or mishandled evidence.
Our second option is to seek conditional discharge of a juvenile’s drug possession charges. This is available for disorderly persons offenses involving marijuana possession or an indictable drug possession offense that has been downgraded.
Conditional discharge is a type of probation typically lasting a year but potentially applied for up to 3 years. When a defendant is granted a conditional discharge, his or her charge is conditionally dismissed without having made a plea.
Once the individual completes conditions of the dismissal, which may include random drug testing, the conditional discharge becomes a permanent dismissal.
To be eligible for conditional discharge, the defendant must have not previously entered a diversion program and must not have a prior drug crime conviction.
Further alternatives of New Jersey’s primary diversion programs for defendants with substance abuse issues who are first-time, nonviolent offenders include:
- Pretrial intervention, which requires court supervision for an average of 1 to 3 years and potentially psychological and/or drug and alcohol evaluations and completion of rehab, as well as random drug tests. Charges are dismissed if the defendant completes all conditions of Pretrial Intervention.
- Drug Court provides another intensively supervised probation that requires frequent drug testing and regularly appearing before a judge to affirm the defendant’s continued good standing. Participants must complete a rehabilitation program and are expected to maintain their recovery through a 12-step program. Drug Court also provides the opportunity to obtain counseling and other assistance with education, job training and health care.
Drug Court and Pretrial Intervention are intended for defendants who are ready to deal with substance abuse problems. We can discuss the availability of PTI or Drug Court and other programs outside of the court system that may be beneficial to your child. Our juvenile drug possession lawyers will work to obtain the best available outcome to the drug possession charges your child faces.
Speak to Our NJ Attorneys About Juvenile Drug Possession Charges
Don’t allow a drug possession conviction to damage your underage child’s future. Juvenile defendants can go to jail/detention for drug possession in New Jersey if they are not properly represented by an experienced drug possession defense attorney.
Call our experienced New Jersey drug crime lawyers at (877) 450-8301 for experienced, dedicated and strategic representation and advocacy. An initial legal consultation with the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall is always free.