1st Time Drug Offense Penalties NJ Leads to Violent Crimes

Contact Our NJ Criminal Defense Firm To Speak To A Highly Experienced Former Prosecutor About Your CDS Charge

The attorneys on our team are accomplished in avoiding penalties for first time drug offenders throughout New Jersey.The vast majority of individuals charged with a drug offense in New Jersey are a first time offender. Whether the arrest is the result of the possession of marijuana, cocaine, Xanax, ecstasy or even heroin, most CDS charges involve those who have no prior conviction on their record. We assume that you fall under this description and are looking to either find a skilled attorney to defend you or are simply trying to educate yourself as to what you can expect when your case reaches court. The lawyers at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall have drafted this article in hopes of assisting you in either of these contexts. In terms of consideration of our firm, you should know that:

  • We have over 200 years of combined experience defending clients charged with possession, distribution and possession with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, MDMA, LSD, methamphetamine and other drugs.
  • Our team of 12 attorneys handles nothing other than criminal defense
  • We employ former county prosecutors who have served as Director of the Drug Task Force, Major Crimes Bureau, Special Operations (i.e. economic crimes), Juvenile Unit and an entire Trial Division
  • Members of our staff have earned the distinction of being Certified Criminal Trial Attorneys

The headings below outline some of the more important aspects of a first time drug offense in NJ. For answers to more detailed questions or concerns, call our office at 877-450-8301 for a free consultation.

What Do I Need To Know If I Have Been Charged With My First Offense For Possession or Distribution of Drugs?

The starting point to any drug case concerns the degree of offense someone is facing. If you were arrested for possession of CDS, for example, less than five dosage units of a prescription legend drug such as Suboxone, Oxycontin/Oxycodone or Xanax or another disorderly person offense, your case is a misdemeanor and shall be heard in the municipal court of the town in which you were charged.

More serious CDS offenses are “crimes” (a.k.a. felonies) and fall under the jurisdiction of the county superior court. These types of drug charges can fall under the grade of a first-degree crime, second-degree crime, third-degree crime or fourth-degree crime. Personal possession of hard street drugs like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and LSD generally falls under the grade of a third-degree crime.

Cases involving the distribution of drugs or possession with intent to distribute CDS generally start at the bottom as a third-degree crime and grade all the way up to a first-degree crime depending on the quantity of drugs being distributed or sold.

Why Is The Grade Of Your First Drug Offense Important?

The grade of your offense is important because it not only dictates the severity of the penalties that you are facing but also the diversionary programs to which you are eligible. In this regard, the potential prison term is 10-20 years for a first-degree crime, 5-10 for a second-degree crime and 3-5 for a third-degree crime. A disorderly persons offense carries up to 6 months in the county jail. You face these periods of incarceration, as well as stiff fines and other penalties, whether you have been charged with a drug offense for the first time or are a repeat offender. The only distinction in terms of sentencing for a first-time offender is the fact that their is a presumption of non-incarceration when the defendant has no prior criminal record.

What Are The Diversion Programs Available To Someone Charged With Their First CDS Offense?

There are five (5) programs that are diversionary in nature that allow someone accused of possessing or distributing drugs to avoid the penalties that normally apply at the time of sentencing. The first program is Conditional Discharge and applies when someone is a first-time offender charged with a disorderly persons offense. The second program applies to third-degree and fourth-degree crimes and is referred to as Pretrial Intervention or PTI. The third diversionary program that someone can utilize is Drug Court. The fourth program is the Veteran’s Diversion Program. And the fifth and final program, which is only available in certain counties, is Mental Health Diversion.

How Can Conditional Discharge Be Used To Avoid A Conviction?

An individual charged with a disorderly person’s offense for drug possession can apply for a conditional discharge and avoid prosecution. Eligibility for this relief requires no prior drug convictions or previous diversions. The program requires completion of one year of probation with drug testing. An individual’s CDS charge is dismissed upon successful completion of the probationary period. Failure to remain drug-free or violation of another condition of the program results in the reinstatement of the original offense and exposure to all of the penalties that apply under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10.

What Are The Requirements For Eligibility And Benefits To Pretrial Intervention?

Pretrial Intervention is extremely similar to Conditional Discharge except that it applies when someone is a first-time offender charged with an indictable crime. As previously stated, this program is limited to crimes of the third or fourth degree. The only time it can be utilized for a more serious offense, for instance, a second-degree crime for distribution of cocaine or other drugs is when there is prosecutor consent.

An individual is eligible for the PTI if they have never been afforded a diversion previously, are facing an eligible drug offense and have no prior record. Although the period of probation is typically one year, the court can extend Pretrial Intervention to three years.

An individual avoids a license suspension, jail/prison and all of the other penalties that apply under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5 or other New Jersey Drug Laws when they successfully complete Pretrial Intervention. Failure to avoid another arrest, report as directed or another basis for termination from PTI results in the reinstatement of the original felony drug charge and exposure to all of the original penalties.

When Is Drug Court A Viable Option For A First Time Offender?

While a drug court application can be made mandatory in some counties, it still remains at the discretion of a defendant in the overwhelming majority of cases. Since the program is extremely strict and is typically five years in duration, it is customarily a diversionary program of last resort when someone is facing a stiff state prison term, usually one with a period of parole ineligibility.

In order to gain admission into drug court, an individual must be both clinically (i.e. suffer from addiction) and legally eligible (i.e. not have a record involving violence or firearms). An eligible defendant is required to enter a plea to the underlying criminal offense, for example, drug distribution, but the related prison term never goes into effect provided the candidate completes the drug court program. Failure to adhere to the requirements of the program, which usually include inpatient treatment and remaining both arrest and drug-free, results in sanction and/or termination from drug court.

How Can I Utilize The Veteran’s Assistance or Diversion Program?

New Jersey has adopted a Veterans Diversion Program that is intended to deal with the unique circumstances presented when a servicemember suffering from mental illness becomes embroiled in the criminal justice system. The objective of the program is to provide an alternative means for resolving criminal charges whose core is post-service mental health issues. The program is typically limited to the diversion of third and fourth-degree crimes.

The Veteran’s Division Program requires completion of up to two years of intensive supervision that is monitored by a mental health professional, the Veteran’s Administration (VA), the related prosecutor’s office, and a volunteer mentor. Provided the veteran remains arrest-free and complies with the other conditions of admission to the program, he/she can avoid the penalties that apply for the drug offense charged.

Is Mental Health Diversion Applicable In My CDS Case?

Lawmakers have presented a new bill to create a Mental Health Diversion Program. The goal of the program is to provide a mechanism for diversion of non-violent offenders whose resort to drugs/cds stems from a mental health illness as opposed to purely criminal behavior.  The structure of the program is extremely similar to drug court with the focus being on mental health treatment as opposed to drug rehabilitation.

Contact Our New Jersey Drug Offense Defense Lawyers Now For A Free Consultation

A drug charge can certainly negatively impact your life whether it is your first offense or you have several priors. Exhausting all defenses, as well as diversion programs, is imperative in order to fully protect your interests. The attorneys at our firm have decades of experience representing clients arrested on charges of possession and distribution of CDS. They know exactly how to effectively defend a drug offense so that you escape the pitfalls of a conviction. To speak to an attorney at the Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall immediately, call 877-450-8301. A lawyer with the know-h0w to help you avoid a conviction is available 24/7 and initial consultations are free.