First-Time Drug Offenses in New Jersey


New Jersey prohibits the possession, manufacture, and distribution of controlled dangerous substances. These substances include Schedule I drugs like heroin and methamphetamine, along with some illegally obtained prescription drugs like oxycontin. Drug charges are punished severely in the New Jersey. Fortunately, first-time drug offenders have several options that are not available to people who have been previously convicted of crimes. If you have been charged with a drug crime and this is your first run-in with the law, there are several viable avenues that you can take to avoid a conviction and keep your criminal record clean. This article provides vital information that you need when facing first-time drug charges in Ocean County or elsewhere in New Jersey. For a free consultation with an attorney who can discuss the specific facts of your case, contact our local office in Point Pleasant at (848) 238-2100.

Ways to Get Your First Drug Charge Dismissed in New Jersey

Conditional Discharge of Disorderly Persons Drug Offenses

If you have been charged with a first-time drug offense, and there are not evidentiary issues that can be used to achieve an outright dismissal in court, there are other options. You may be able to enroll in a diversionary program that requires you to satisfy a number of conditions while under court supervision, in exchange for avoiding a criminal conviction. The diversionary program for which you may be eligible depends on whether your first-time drug offense is a disorderly persons offense (similar to a misdemeanor in jurisdictions outside New Jersey) or an indictable offense (similar to a felony in other jurisdictions).

If you have been charged with a first-time disorderly persons drug offense, such as possession of less than 50 grams of marijuanapossession of drug paraphernalia, or similar relatively minor drug crimes, you may be eligible for a program known as conditional discharge. To be eligible for conditional discharge, you must have been charged with a disorderly persons offense, it must be your first-offense, you must never have participated in a conditional discharge program or Pretrial Intervention program previously, and you must agree that if you violate the terms of your conditional discharge program, the original complaint against you will be reinstated. If you complete the terms of the program, the original drug charge will be dismissed. Conditional discharge typically last for six months to a year, requires you to avoid further arrests and potentially submit to drug testing.

PTI for First Time Indictable Drug Offenses

If you have been charged with a more serious, first-time indictable drug offense, you may be able to participate in a separate diversionary program known as Pretrial Intervention, or PTI for short. Certain offenses do not qualify for Pretrial Intervention. For example, you are not eligible for PTI if you have been charged with a first drug drug crime, regardless of whether you have no prior criminal record. To get into the Pretrial Intervention Program, you must be a first-time offender charged with an indictable offense, you must not be on probation or parole, and you must not have previously taken advantage of Pretrial Intervention or conditional discharge. If you meet these requirements, you may be able to use PTI to get your drug charges dismissed. The program is essentially a period of probation, under court supervision and subject to certain requirements, similar to conditional discharge in municipal court. After successful completion of PTI, the case against you will be dismissed.

Is There Mandatory Jail for a First Time Drug Offense in NJ?

If you are charged with a drug crime and this is your first offense, your chances of serving jail time can be affected by legal “presumptions” applicable to the type of charge for which you were arrested. Specifically, if you have been convicted of a disorderly persons offense, a fourth-degree indictable offense, or a third-degree indictable offense, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1 presumes that you should not be sentenced to a term of imprisonment unless the judge finds particular circumstances indicating that imprisonment is necessary to protect the public. Some examples of drug charges with a presumption of non-incarceration for first-time offenders include:

If you have been convicted of a second or first-degree indictable offense, even if that offense is your first criminal conviction, the law presumes that you should serve time in prison unless the judge finds circumstances indicating that imprisonment would cause a serious injustice overriding the need to deter similar conduct in others. For example, the following drug charges carry a presumption of incarceration, even for first-time offenders:

Facing 1st Drug Charge in Toms River, What Should I do?

If you are facing charges for a first drug offense, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you avoid jail time or even a criminal conviction. Get the knowledge and information you need to achieve the best possible outcome. Contact our firm to consult an Ocean County drug defense lawyer today. You can reach us 24/7 at (848) 238-2100 for a free consultation. With local offices, we defend clients arrested for drugs in Mantoloking, Lavallette, Brick, Manchester, Lacey Township, Point Pleasant, Seaside Heights, and surrounding communities.

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.