Have You Been Charged With a Drug Crime as a First Offender in New Jersey? Know Your Options
Anyone who has been charged with a drug crime in New Jersey probably understands just how serious the situation is. Even when the person being charged is a first-time offender with no prior criminal record, the consequences of a conviction on drug charges can be disastrous. Whether you’ve been charged with a simple drug possession offense or a more serious drug distribution or drug trafficking offense, you should not expect the prosecutor or the judge to “go easy on you” just because it’s a first-time drug offense. The good news, however, is that it might be possible for you to avoid imprisonment and instead receive a probationary sentence via an alternative sentencing program that emphasizes rehabilitation over punishment. But securing admission into one of these programs is not easy, which is why you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney very early on in the legal process if you have been charged with a first time drug offense. Get in touch with out experienced lawyers and receive a free consultation now by contacting our law office in Jersey City NJ at (201) 793-8018.
Charges & Punishments for First-time Drug Offenses in NJ
The charges for first-time drug offenses in NJ are typically determined by the type of drug and the nature of the offense. The exact charge that you face will determine the range of penalties that the judge in your case can impose. Regardless of the precise charges, you are likely to be exposed to substantial punishments if you are ultimately convicted at trial or plead guilty to the most serious charges, particularly if you’ve been charged with an indictable offense (a felony) in Superior Court. The following are some of the most common types of first offense drug charges in New Jersey:
- Cocaine Possession: As set forth by N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10, possession of any amount of cocaine is classified as a third degree felony in NJ. This means that a conviction typically carries a punishment that includes 3 to 5 years of prison time, as well as a fine of up to $35,000. This is true even if the defendant is a first-time offender with no previous convictions on their record.
- Heroin Possession: Possession of heroin is treated similarly to cocaine possession, with both offenses classified as third degree crimes. This means that a defendant who is convicted, or who pleads guilty, to heroin possession charges is subject to a sentence of 3-5 years in state prison and a fine of $35,000.
- Prescription Drug Offenses: If you are found in possession of prescription legend drugs and you do not have a valid prescription, you can be charged with a prescription drug offense. Since possession of five (5) or more dosage units of a prescription drug is classified as a fourth degree felony, you could face up to 18 months in prison if convicted. Moreover, if you are charged with unlawful distribution of prescription drugs, the offense is classified as a felony and can result in significant prison time, depending on the quantity of prescription drugs. As an example, distribution of just five (5) dosage units is a third degree offense and carries a possible sentence of 3-5 years in prison.
- Marijuana Distribution: Although marijuana has been legalized in New Jersey, this doesn’t mean that just anybody can go around selling it. There are still strict limitations on who can sell cannabis, with states and local municipalities issuing licenses to authorized distributors. If you are caught illegally distributing cannabis, you can be charged with a drug offense that carries possible jail time.
- Cocaine Distribution: The unlawful distribution of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) like cocaine is one of the more serious drug offenses in the NJ Criminal Code. An individual who has been charged with cocaine distribution, or possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, could face decades in prison, depending on the weight of cocaine that they are accused of selling. For example, distribution of more than five (5) ounces of cocaine is classified as a first degree crime and comes with a sentencing range of 10-20 years in prison, as well as a presumption of incarceration even if the defendant is a first-time offender.
- Heroin Distribution: The degree of a charge for heroin distribution, or possession of heroin with intent to distribute, is set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5, which stipulates that the degree and penalties are determined by the weight of heroin that was sold. Since heroin is considered a Schedule I controlled substance, the penalties can be quite severe for anyone who is convicted of distributing a substantial weight, with a conviction likely to result in years behind bars.
Diversionary Programs New Jersey Offers for First-time Drug Offenders
In some drug crime cases, a first-time offender may be allowed to participate in a diversionary program instead of going through a more standard criminal trial that ends with sentencing to jail or prison time. The idea behind diversionary programs for first-time drug offenses is that a person should not have their life ruined just because they made a single mistake. With that in mind, prosecutors and judges are usually willing to give a second chance to a first-time offender in the form of alternative sentencing or a diversionary program. The main diversionary programs available to first-time drug offenders include the following:
- Conditional Discharge: Conditional Discharge is a program that’s available when the defendant is charged with a minor drug possession offense like possession of drug paraphernalia in Municipal Court and he or she has no previous convictions. A conditional discharge is exactly what it sounds like: your case is temporarily suspended and then the charges/conviction against you are dismissed on the condition that you satisfy certain requirements. The main requirements for Conditional Discharge are that you pass random drug tests and avoid any arrests for one year after you enter the program. Once the year is up and you have successfully met the conditions of the program, the drug offense conviction will be removed from your record.
- Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI): Pre-Trial Intervention, or PTI, is a program that’s available to defendants in more serious indictable criminal matters in Superior Court as long as the defendant has no previous conviction or guilty plea on their record. Additionally, because PTI is only offered once during a person’s life, the defendant must not have ever used PTI or Conditional Discharge on a prior occasion. Once you receive admission into the PTI program, your charges will essentially be put on hold while you prove to the court that you can remain drug free, stay out of legal trouble, and generally contribute to your community. You may be required to take random drug tests, participate in drug or alcohol rehabilitation, and attend mental health counseling. After successful completion of PTI, which can last from one to three years, the original drug charge will be dismissed.
- Drug Court: For certain drug offenses where the offense stemmed from the defendant’s drug addiction issues, the case isn’t necessarily heard in the county Superior Court where most indictable offenses are charged. Instead, the case may be transferred to a special court program known as Drug Court. Your eligibility for Drug Court will depend on whether it can be shown that you committed the offense because of your addiction, and whether drug counseling, rehab, and other programs would potentially help you. Importantly, the consequences of admission into Drug Court are far less severe than they would otherwise be because the defendant is able to receive help to overcome their addiction instead of being sentenced to imprisonment and other harsh punishment.
- Veterans Diversion Program: The Veterans Diversion Program is available to military service members who could benefit from mental health and/or addiction counseling, job placement, and other services. The program can last for up to two (2) years, and once the defendant has completed all requirements, the drug offense charges will be dismissed.
Benefits of Having a Lawyer Handling Your First Offense CDS Case
Gaining admittance into a diversionary program like Conditional Discharge, PTI, or Drug Court is crucially important if you want to avoid having a criminal record at the end of all this. Unfortunately, many prospective employers will steer clear of hiring you if they see that you’ve got a drug crime conviction on your record. Beyond that, having a drug offense conviction or guilty plea on your record can also limit your options in the future when it comes to securing a loan, buying or renting a house, or getting into college.
The truth is that having a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side can make all the difference when it comes to applying for entrance into one of these diversionary programs for first-time drug offenses. At a minimum, getting a lawyer to help you is a must if you want to have a solid understanding of the charges against you and take advantage of your available options as someone who has been charged with a drug offense for the first time.
First Time Drug Charge Weighing on You? Contact Our Jersey City Law Office Now
If you have been charged with a first time drug offense in New Jersey, the attorneys at William Proetta Criminal Law can help ensure you have access to all of the benefits of experience practicing criminal law and knowing the nuances of drug cases inside and out. We have been helping clients take advantage of diversion programs, plea negotiations, and winning defense strategies when litigating cases at trial for years. Often, these cases arise in towns like Secaucus, Hoboken, Bayonne, Weehawken, Kearny, Union City, Jersey City, and throughout Hudson County, where we are regularly handling cases on a weekly basis. Call (201) 793-8018 for a free consultation about your CDS case today.