How You Can Face Two Charges for Drugs in a Car

drug law

Why Was I charged with Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS) and CDS in a Motor Vehicle? Isn’t It the Same Thing in NJ?

New Jersey law prohibits possessing controlled dangerous substances like marijuana, heroin, MDMA, cocaine, and prescription drugs for which you do not have a valid prescription. In fact, most people know that if police catch you with a controlled dangerous substance, you can be charged with possession of a CDS and convicted of an associated drug offense. But it’s less commonly known that in New Jersey, you can also face a separate serious offense for almost the exact same conduct—possessing a controlled dangerous substance—if your case contains the added fact that you possessed the drug in question while operating a motor vehicle on one of New Jersey’s highways.

These two charges do not replace one another. You can actually be charged with both at the same time. NJ law permits this because these offenses are, in fact, considered two separate acts addressed in two distinct statutes. One criminalizes simple possession of the CDS (often referred to simply as “drug possession”), and the other specifically targets possession of a CDS in the context of operating a motor vehicle. This may seem unfair, but the New Jersey legislature has determined that having drugs in your car, particularly while that car is in motion, is incredibly dangerous behavior that requires separate punishment from the usual drug possession law. New Jersey courts have permitted this distinction to persist, even though it seems like you are being punished twice for the same set of drugs.

What’s the Difference between Possessing CDS and Possession in a Motor Vehicle in New Jersey?

This possession in a vehicle law applies only to drivers, not to passengers, a key difference from the simple possession law. In other words, both a driver and a passenger can be convicted of possessing CDS, but a passenger will naturally not be charged with possessing CDS as the driver of a motor vehicle.

Beyond this, possession of CDS in a motor vehicle is technically a motor vehicle offense, while simple possession of CDS is a criminal offense. The penalties are significantly different as well. While a charge for possession of CDS may result in jail or state prison time (depending on the drug involved and the quantity of said drug), heavy fines, probation, community service, and other serious consequences; possession of CDS in a motor vehicle is a traffic violation punishable by a mandatory two-year suspension of your driver’s license. You can imagine how devastating it can be to be convicted of both.

What Proof is Needed for Drugs in a Car Charges in NJ?

Proving what is called “simple possession” of a CDS is much simpler than proving possession of a CDS in a motor vehicle. To prove simple possession, the prosecutor must establish that you possessed a CDS either through “actual possession” by having the drug on your person, in your pockets, etc., or through “constructive possession,” by having the drugs in an area that you could access and exercise control over. Whether a drug is a CDS is defined by law, including by state drug “schedules”—categories running from Schedule I for the “hardest” drugs, in general terms, all the way to Schedule V. Typically, a prosecutor will have a laboratory analyze the drug in question to verify that it is, in fact, one of New Jersey’s controlled dangerous substances.

To prove possession of a controlled dangerous substance in a motor vehicle, on the other hand, a prosecutor must prove a simple possession charge, as discussed above, in addition to proving that you possessed a CDS while operating a motor vehicle on a highway when the CDS was located on you as the driver or within the vehicle you were driving. Highway, as defined by the relevant statute, is typically defined broadly by case law to include avenues, drives, streets, or other roadways open to the public. Operating a motor vehicle involves taking control of a vehicle with intent to move it and taking an action to initiate movement, assuming the vehicle has the ability to move.
Stated differently, a “CDS in a vehicle” charge involves the same proof that the prosecutor would put on in a simple CDS possession case, plus more.

Get Help with Westfield NJ Drug Possession in a Car Defense

There are defenses to both the charges of CDS possession and possession of CDS in a vehicle. The penalties for these two charges can be cumulative and very severe. If you have been arrested for drugs in your car, you can be punished for both offenses if convicted. With this in mind, it is important to contact a dedicated criminal defense attorney if you have been charged with either or both types of drug possession in a vehicle. We are dedicated NJ criminal defense attorneys with a team that is ready to challenge the state’s case against you in court. If you are seeking help with a drug arrest in Scotch Plains, Westfield, Linden, Roselle, Cranford, Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Clark, Summit, or another town in Union County, contact our convenient local offices, located in Cranford, for immediate assistance. Please feel free to call (908) 838-0150 anytime, or contact us online for a free consultation.

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.