Being Charged with Fentanyl Possession or Distribution is a Serious Situation in NJ
Far more potent than morphine, you often find Fentanyl in heroin, a potentially lethal opiate cocktail directly connected to overdoses in New Jersey. According to 2017 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Scientists initially developed it as a pain reliever for cancer patients in severe pain. Its quick-acting pain relief and strength attracted drug dealers and makers to use it to enhance heroin, cocaine, and synthetic pharmaceuticals. However, since it is a short-lived high, many users need more Fentanyl powder or pills to sustain their highs. Sadly, it takes a mere 2 milligrams, a minute amount, to kill someone. And because the synthetic opioid now has many analogies or copycat drugs that run rampant through the drug world, it is no wonder the statistics for overdoses are so high.
Though illicit drugs and consequent overdoses have risen in New Jersey and the nation over the years, the numbers of fatalities peaked recently. Street drugs laced with Fentanyl is a prevalent trend leading to unprecedented overdose numbers, 90,000 people across the nation in 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that for the first time, deaths by synthetic opioids, like Fentanyl and Tramadol, rose a whopping 55% in only one year. And while Covid fears may be fueling the increase in illegal drug use, opioids especially, the irony is that increased drug use causes users’ risk to contract and suffer Covid complications to rise significantly. Worse yet, illegal drug users hesitate to seek medical help due to substance use stigmatization. Thus, the highly potent Fentanyl contributes to higher rates of addiction and death among drug users during the pandemic, and the end is nowhere in sight.
Given this sad situation, it is no wonder that New Jersey lawmakers and law enforcement have come down hard on fentanyl dealers and producers. Distributing or possessing Fentanyl with the intent to distribute it reaps some of the harshest punishment New Jersey delivers. Even merely possessing fentanyl can land you in prison on top of a felony conviction once you are released.
What are the Consequences of Fentanyl Possession in New Jersey?
Possessing Fentanyl, a Schedule II controlled dangerous substance (CDS) is a third degree offense that could send a convicted individual to prison for anywhere from 3 to 5 years. They would also have to pay fines ranging to $35,000.00. There is a presumption of non-incarceration for third degree crimes, meaning a defendant is not necessarily required to be sentenced to prison if found guilty of possession of Fentanyl. This applies if a person is charged with fentanyl possession under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1).
There is another law that may apply to fentanyl possession charges as well, in which case it matters whether the defendant had prescription or street Fentanyl and how much they had when arrested. Five or more doses of Fentanyl constitutes a fourth degree crime, but a disorderly persons offense if less than that amount. This statutory mandate is governed by N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10.5. Thus, a convicted defendant could face 18 months or six months incarcerated, or both, if arrested for having Fentanyl.
Facing Fentanyl Distribution, Manufacturing, or Possession with Intent to Distribute in Union County NJ
The amount of Fentanyl the police find on a person or on their property also matters in a possession with intent to distribute charge. So, possessing with the intent to sell five ounces or more of Fentanyl is a first degree crime, but possessing or distributing less than five ounces and more than a half-ounce of the drug is a second degree crime according to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5. If convicted of first degree possession with intent to sell or distribution, a defendant can expect to spend at least 10 years and up to 20 imprisoned and pay up to $500,000.00 in fines. The punishment is 5 to 10 years in prison for a second degree offense and a $150,00.00 fine. And for less than a half-ounce, a distributor can expect a three-to-five-year sentence and a $75,000.00 fine for a third degree crime violating N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5.
Per the conditions of the other statute that may apply to fentanyl charges, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10.5, the consequences and grading differs. Further, a conviction for distributing fewer than four Fentanyl dose units leads to a fourth degree crime, with a potential for distributing 5 to 99 dose units, a third degree crime, and for 100 or more, a second degree crime. The fines for a third and second degree distribution crime rise to $200,000.00 and $300,000.00, respectively. A second degree crime carries a presumption of incarceration, meaning a defendant is most likely going to prison unless they get a better deal or downgraded offense.
What if Distribution of Fentanyl Occurs in a School Zone?
And if these penalties were not high enough, there are steeper ones if possession or distribution occurs near a school zone or public park. For example, a conviction for Fentanyl possession near a school or park can result in minimally 100 hours of community service on top of possession penalties. Selling near a school or park results in a separate charge with penalties that come in addition to the other charges for fentanyl distribution (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7).
Other New Jersey Fentanyl Related Charges You could Face
Worse yet, an indictment for manufacturing Fentanyl and maintaining a CDS production facility results in a potential sentence of 20 years in prison and a $175,000.00 fine. And if someone dies from an overdose with the drugs sold, manufactured, or distributed by a defendant, the law imposes strict liability. That means a defendant cannot assert defenses against the crime leading to death, like the victim’s addiction or abuse. Strict Liability for Drug-Induced Death is among the most severe crimes you can face in New Jersey, and fentanyl cases are rife with this additional companion charge.
Can I get PTI for NJ Fentanyl Charges?
While a prosecutor often wants to punish a fentanyl dealing or possessing defendant to the maximum, the reality is that each defendant has unique circumstances, and a one-size-fits-all punishment is not the rule. In addition, courts treat first-time offenders differently than repeat offenders. For example, if you were charged with third or fourth degree sale or possession of Fentanyl, you could apply for the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). This diversionary program substitutes incarceration and felony conviction for a suspended charge and supervised period of probation. The prosecutor must approve your application, especially if you have a more serious second degree possession or distribution charge. But if you get PTI as an alternative and follows the rules during the one to three-year time period it lasts for, the charges are dropped.
Note, if you have a prior criminal record, you could also apply for Drug Court to avoid imprisonment. After finishing the Drug Court Program, your entire record gets expunged and basically, you start over with a clean slate and your past is behind you.
Fentanyl Charge Defense Lawyer Near You in Cranford, Elizabeth, Union, Rahway, and other Towns
If you have been charged with a crime involving fentanyl in Union County and other counties in New Jersey, you will need the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Finding someone with a background in criminal law who knows how to assist you with applying to diversion programs, negotiating with the prosecutor for a favorable plea bargain, or defending your case against the state’s charges could be a game-changing decision. More than game-changing, it could save your life.
Given the tough stance judges and prosecutors take on drug-related charges, especially regarding the harm Fentanyl and other opioids produce in society, you want to protect yourself against unfair treatment and overly harsh sentences and aggressive prosecutions. Connect with an experienced criminal defense attorney handling fentanyl possession and distribution charges by contacting us at (908) 838-0150 for a free consultation. We have lawyers available 24/7 to answer your call.