Degrees of Drug Charges in NJ

drugs and handcuffs

Headlines involving drug overdoses and deaths are not uncommon in New Jersey. As such, the State of New Jersey, as well as Union County, have devoted substantial resources to combating and capturing drug dealers and users alike. The types of drug charges in Union County can vary, as do the degrees of these crimes and potential penalties. From causing a drug-induced death to simple possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), the police have the will and the manpower to charge you with any type of drug crime within the confines of the law. Depending on the severity of the drug charge in your case, you may be facing consequences for a disorderly persons offense or an indictable crime of the first, second, third, or fourth degree. Whatever your situation, you may be wondering what you can do to successfully resolve the case and if you are eligible for certain programs such as Pre-trial Intervention.

What Drug Crimes Can Get You Arrested in Union County NJ?

There are different types of drug offenses for which you may be arrested in Union County and throughout the state. New Jersey finds it necessary for the protection of the public to make it a crime to commit any drug offense under Titles 35 and 36 of the criminal code. These offenses encompass acts associated with possession, distribution, and manufacturing of any controlled dangerous substance (CDS). In its simplest form, all drug cases begin with some form of possession.

N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10: Drug possession

Any person found to be in actual or constructive possession of a controlled dangerous substance will be charged under this section. In New Jersey, some substances are illegal to ever possess, while others may be illegal to possess without a valid prescription. For example, cocaine, MDMA, and heroin can never be possessed legally, while substances such as Xanax, Codeine, and Oxycodone can be possessed with a prescription from a licensed practitioner. As for possession of marijuana, this drug may only be legally possessed in accordance with the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program.

N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5: Manufacturing, Distributing, Dispensing, and Possessing Drugs with Intent to Distribute

If you possess drugs in larger quantities or are caught selling or making them, you may be charged with Distribution, Possession with intent to Distribute, or Manufacturing CDS. These cases often involved multiple charges for possession, maintaining a CDS production facility, possession with intent to distribute, distribution, and/or distribution in a school zone or in close proximity to certain public property. These drug-related offenses are all indictable crimes, the degree of which is determined by the specific offense, the specific drug, and the specific amount of said drug.

Degrees of Drug Crimes in New Jersey

Indictable drug crimes in Union County and throughout New Jersey are more considered more serious, for which you must attend Union County Superior Court located at 2 Broad Street in Elizabeth. These crimes will be classified as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th degree. As mentioned, drug offense degrees are generally established by the actual substance, the conduct involved, as well as the amount of the CDS. Each crime carries a possible sentence; some sentences are mandatory while others are not. Below is a simple list of the degrees of drug crimes, as well as the presumptions in sentencing.

First Degree Drug Crimes

There is a presumption of incarceration, which means prison is mandatory. You may be sent to state prison for 10-20 years if convicted, with a minimum amount to be served before you become eligible for parole. Maintaining a CDS production facility is an example of a first degree crime. Anyone who manufacturers, distributes or dispenses an amount of 5 ounces or more of cocaine or heroin will also be charged with a first degree crime. A $500,000 fine may be imposed in these cases. For marijuana distribution, the amount involved must be 25 pounds or more, and the possible fine is $300,000.

Second Degree Drug Crimes

There is a presumption of incarceration for anyone convicted of a second degree drug crime. The sentencing range is 5-10 years in prison. You will be charged with a second degree crime if the weight of a drug like heroin or cocaine is at least half an ounce but less than five ounces. For marijuana, the amount possessed with intent to distribute must be at least five pounds but less than 25 pounds.

Third Degree Drug Crimes

In a third degree drug distribution case, there is no presumption of incarceration if the accused has no prior convictions. However, you can be sent to state prison for 3-5 years, or be placed on probation conditioned upon 364 days in the county jail or less. You may be also be fined up to $75,000.00. For marijuana, the amount distributed or intended to be distributed is at least 1 ounce but less than 5 pounds.

In addition to the distribution, you may be charged with a third degree crime for possession of CDS and face the same jail time. For instance, possession of a small amount of heroin, cocaine, MDMA, or LSD, may lead to drug charges for a third degree crime.

Fourth Degree Drug Crimes

This is the lowest level indictable offense and there is no presumption of incarceration for first offenders. If convicted of possessing greater than 50 grams of marijuana, for example, you do face 12-18 months in jail for a crime of the fourth degree.

Disorderly Persons Drug Offenses

If charged with a disorderly persons offense for drugs, you will go to Municipal Court in the town where the offense was alleged to have taken place.  Common drug disorderly persons offenses include: Possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)), Being under the influence of a controlled dangerous substance (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(b)), Possession of drug paraphernalia (N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2)Failure to turnover CDS to police (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(c)), and Possessing a prescription not in the proper container (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-24). For each of these offenses, the court may sentence you to spend 6 months in the county jail. Additionally, the court can order a term of probation during which you must obtain a substance abuse evaluation, get drug treatment, and pay off fines.

There are many types of substances that can subject you to a drug charge in Union County and many fines and penalties associated therewith. While your charges or the facts of the case may be different, the above is meant to provide just a basic understanding of the degrees of drug crimes in New Jersey.

Pre-trial Intervention for First-time Offenders Charged With Drugs

Depending on your situation, Pretrial Intervention (PTI) may be a viable option to get your drug charges dismissed. For instance, if you are a first-time offender charged with a fourth degree or third degree drug crime, PTI, which results in no guilty plea and a dismissal, may be available to you. Some cases are more easily diverted through Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) than others. For example, a third degree possession in which someone suffers from substance abuse is more likely to be resolved by way of PTI than someone who is charged with first or second degree drug distribution and a profitable criminal enterprise. More often than not, defendants facing third and fourth degree drug charges are more willingly accepted into PTI than others.

Pretrial Intervention is a mechanism for first time offenders to resolve their case without a guilty plea or conviction. An application for PTI is submitted by you to the Criminal Division in Union County. Once your PTI application has been submitted, a probation officer within this division will interview you and determine whether you should be accepted. Some factors that can influence their decision include whether you have a condition that can improve over time, such as a substance abuse, you have or do not have a prior criminal record, and whether you were part of a for-profit or gang-related criminal network. Once the probation department has made their decision, the prosecutor will either agree to your enrollment in PTI or reject your application.

If all parties agree that your case should be diverted, an order will be issued outlining the conditions of your PTI, as well as the length of the probationary period (12-36 months). If you fulfill all obligations under the order, your charges will be dismissed, and you can have your record expunged after 6 months. This is especially beneficial to those with immigration issues, those seeking employment now or in the future, and those submitting applications to colleges and universities.

Charged With Drugs in Union NJ? Get Lawyer Help With Your Case

Although there are numerous things that may befall you as part of a drug conviction, we can help you navigate the quagmire of the legal process and avoid a conviction in many cases, depending on the circumstances surrounding your drug charges. We know and understand that everyone is different and may require different solutions such as PTI, Drug Court, Probation, a motions to dismiss, or a trial. Fortunately, our Union County drug defense lawyers have been handling cases like yours for the duration of our careers. We can aid you in assessing your options and zealously pursuing the avenue toward the most beneficial result. To receive a free consultation about a drug case in Union County, New Jersey, contact us at (908) 838-0150 today.

With more than a decade of experience defending clients against criminal charges, founding partner William A. Proetta has successfully handled and tried thousands of cases, from DWI to murder. As a New Jersey native, he has focused his career on helping people in the area where he grew up, serving Middlesex, Ocean, Hudson, and Union counties.