The state of New Jersey treats drug distribution-related crimes with harsh penalties. Even though recent changes in the law bring some level of legalization to marijuana possession and treats it more like tobacco products, being caught with larger amounts of marijuana or other drugs considered controlled or illicit may still lead to fines, jail time, and a criminal record. Our drug crime and criminal defense law firm has assisted many clients accused of drug distribution in New Jersey — here are a few important things to consider if you have been charged.
According to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5, “it shall be unlawful for any person knowingly or purposely […] to create, distribute, or possess or have under his control with intent to distribute, a counterfeit controlled dangerous substance.” In New Jersey, a person can be charged with drug distribution even if he or she was never caught actually selling drugs or performing any type of transaction. Law enforcement can simply allege that an individual had the intent to sell based on the amount of drugs they had in their possession. Another way law enforcement can prove intent without witnessing any drugs being sold is by showing that two individuals were interacting and one was in possession of drugs while the other had a large amount of cash or valuable items.
New Jersey has recently entered a growing list of states where possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal or recreational use is no longer a crime for those 21 or older. Voters passed Question 1 which amends the state’s constitution to allow for legal possession of up to 6 ounces of cannabis, which used to be a third-degree crime punishable with 5 years of imprisonment and up to $25,000 in fines. Possession of more than 6 ounces remains a crime that can be aggravated if the individual is found within 1000 feet of a school.
Concerning drug distribution charges, the new law is more lenient towards first-time offenders selling less than 1 oz of marijuana. Penalties have been reduced to a written warning for the first offense, but subsequent offenses are still indictable crimes with fines and jail time. Possession and distribution of larger amounts of marijuana or any amount of other drugs are still punishable offenses.
According to NJ laws, penalties for possession and/or distribution are the same and the severity of them depends on the type of drugs the person is accused of selling and the amount he or she intended to sell. For example, having more than 5 ounces of heroin or methamphetamine, or more than 25 pounds of marijuana is a 1st-degree crime punishable by 25 years in jail and a fine of up to $500,000.00. In contrast, having any amount of LSD is a second-degree crime that can result in up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $150,000.00.
First-time offenders may have a chance at receiving an alternative sentence that includes participation in a diversionary program, such as court-mandated rehab and/or community service. Only a few eligible offenders may be able to participate in alternative sentencing programs such as PTI (Pretrial Intervention) or conditional discharge. Eligibility requirements include having no prior convictions and not currently being on parole or probation.
While being charged with drug possession with the intent to sell is a serious matter not to be taken lightly, it does not automatically mean you will be convicted. If you have been charged, working with an attorney as soon as possible may make the difference in your case and give you better chances of having your charges reduced or (in some cases) dropped altogether.
An attorney can examine the evidence presented against you by the prosecution and question its validity. If the attorney can successfully argue that the evidence presented was obtained through an illegal search that violated your constitutional rights, that evidence becomes inadmissible in court, which often leads to your case being dropped or charges being de-escalated.
For example, if an officer conducts a traffic stop and ends up finding drugs in your vehicle, your attorney can question whether the officer had a valid reason to stop your vehicle in the first place and whether he or she coerced you into consenting to a search (by saying things like ‘if you don’t let us search your vehicle, we will do so anyway and things will look worse for you). Searching without permission or coercing an individual into agreeing to a search will likely invalidate any evidence resulting from that search.
Another way an attorney can help is by questioning the lab results of tests conducted on the controlled substance and arguing that you did not have constructive possession of the drugs. The bottom line is that simply giving in and pleading guilty is rarely the best option, and a skilled drug crime defense attorney can help you fight back and get a lesser sentence or have your case dismissed. Every case is different and results are not guaranteed, but if you are facing a drug-related charge, contact the Hernandez Law Firm, P.C., and request a no-obligation case evaluation.