Understanding Types of Drug Possession in New Jersey

arrested for drugs

New Jersey has enacted and continues to vigorously enforce its expansive drug laws, often leading to severe penalties for those ultimately found guilty. Drug possession offenses range in terms of severity and consequences may include significant jail or prison time, extensive fines, driver’s license suspension, community service, and more for misdemeanor or felony-level offenses. This is in large part because NJ authorities view drug use as both a morality issue and a health problem, with drug overdoses reaching epidemic levels across the state in recent years. The end result is that anyone who has been charged with illegal drug possession, charged technically as possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), finds themselves in a serious predicament with potentially long-term detrimental effects. Understanding the types of drug possession in New Jersey will go a long way toward helping you make sense of your criminal charges and the various ways that possession allegations are prosecuted in this state.

With knowledge and experience on your side, it is very possible to circumvent or minimize the penalties for drug possession charges, which is why you need to speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. If you have been charged with possession of drugs like heroin, cocaine, MDMA (Molly), LSD, methamphetamineOxycodone, Xanax, Adderall, or other prescription drugs, contact our Union County criminal defense lawyers for a free initiation consultation. You can make the call to (908) 838-0150 to speak with an attorney at our Cranford office whenever you need.

Two Main Types of Drug Possession in NJ

New Jersey criminalizes the possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) in certain situations. Some of the most common CDS possession offenses involve cocaine, heroin, and prescription drugs. Additionally, although marijuana is now technically legal to possess in New Jersey, it is still possible for a person to face criminal charges when they do not follow state guidelines for possessing, selling, or growing marijuana. Before you can start strategizing about a defense to drug possession charges for cocaine, heroin, marijuana or prescription drugs, you must first know what exactly constitutes “possession” in the eyes of the law. In New Jersey, there are different types of drug possession. The following are the main types of drug possession that can get you arrested and charged with a crime involving a controlled dangerous substance.

Actual Possession of a CDS

Drug possession charges are commonly filed in cases involving actual possession. Actual possession of a controlled dangerous substance is exactly what it sounds like: you had the drugs on your person when police searched you. Typically, when police find you in physical possession of heroin, cocaine, or some other illegal narcotic, they will place you under arrest for illegal drug possession. While cases involving actual possession of a CDS tend to be straightforward, this is not the only way a person can be charged with drug possession in New Jersey.

Constructive Possession of CDS

It may come as a surprise to learn that you do not actually need to be in physical possession of an illegal substance in order to be charged with drug possession. NJ law also criminalizes something known as “constructive possession,” which allows police to infer that you had knowledge and control over the drugs, and therefore basically possessed them. Constructive possession is a trickier concept to grasp than actual possession, and it can also be more difficult for the prosecution to prove at trial.

As noted, when you are accused of constructive possession, this means that the authorities believe you knew the drugs were present and you were in a position to exercise control over them. Moreover, the prosecution can use circumstantial evidence to prove constructive possession. For example, perhaps police found a prescription pill bottle in the glove compartment of your car during a traffic stop. Although the pills were not technically in your pockets or otherwise on your person, police can reasonably infer that the drugs belonged to you because you were operating the vehicle. Whether this holds up in court will depend on the circumstances of the case, supporting evidence presented by the prosecution, and the quality of your legal representation. However, the mere presence of the drugs in your car may be enough for police to place you under arrest and charge you with illegal possession of CDS.

Another example of constructive possession leading to serious drug charges would be police officers conducting a search of your home and finding a drug like cocaine in the residence. Even though you did not actually possess the drugs on your person, you can still be arrested and charged with cocaine possession because the drugs were found on your property. Basically, if the drugs were in a location from which you could easily and quickly access them, then they were presumably under your control. Since the determining factor for constructive possession is whether you were aware of, and able to exercise control over, the controlled substance in question, this may lead to charges for drug possession.

Another Form of Constructive Possession Is Known as “constructive Joint Possession.”

This occurs when police find cocaine, heroin, or some other drug in the presence of more than one person and are unable to determine to whom the drugs belong. If multiple people are in the vehicle or at the residence when CDS is discovered by law enforcement, it’s possible that all of the people will be placed under arrest and charged with a drug crime on a theory that they all jointly possessed the drugs. This is why it is common for a passenger in a vehicle containing drugs to end up charged with a drug crime.

Defining Simple Drug Possession

It is important to understand that you can be charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) even if you did not intend to sell or distribute the drugs. This is known as “simple possession.” The mere fact that you had the drugs – either on your person or constructively under your control – is enough for law enforcement to bring criminal charges against you for drug possession. It won’t matter whether you were caught carrying a small amount of cocaine for personal use or a single prescription pill that you planned to take later – you can still be charged with simple possession. Moreover, the penalties for simple possession are quite detrimental, particularly if you are arrested with an illegal street drug like cocaine or heroin. In fact, possession of most types of controlled dangerous substances is a third degree indictable offense, and it carries a possible penalty of 3-5 years in state prison and a fine of $35,000.

Some lesser charges for prescription drugs may be classified as fourth degree indictable offenses, which still entail up to 18 months in prison and a possible $10,000 fine. For the least degree of drug possession in New Jersey, which seldom occurs at this point, those found guilty may be sentenced to county jail time up to 6 months plus fines amounting to $1,000. There are additional fees attached to drug crime convictions and potentially a license suspension from 6 months to 2 years. The charge will also leave you with a criminal record, a notable problem when seeking various application-based opportunities, licenses, and other lifetime milestones as you move on in your life.

Need a Lawyer for Drug Possession in Union NJ

The bottom line is that you should do everything possible to avoid being convicted if you are facing drug possession charges in New Jersey, including in Union County towns like Westfield, Livingston, Linden, Hillside, Springfield, Roselle, Rahway, and Roselle Park. Making the choice to be represented by a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who understands the nuances of New Jersey drug crime laws and who is prepared to defend you based on a thorough analysis of your particular facts and evidence can be the best decision you make in your lifetime. If you would like a free initial consultation with a criminal defense lawyer at our Cranford office, please contact (908) 838-0150. You can also send us a chat or email message to connect for further discussion of your drug possession case.

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.