What Are the Penalties and Sentences for Cocaine Possession in New Jersey?

Drug-related offenses are not taken lightly by the authorities of New Jersey. Depending on what kind of drug, otherwise known as a controlled substance, you had, the charges and the penalties will be different. Additionally, what you were doing with the controlled substance will affect the outcome of your case. Simply possessing a controlled substance is one thing, but if the police suspect you intended to sell them the charges and penalties will change. There are many different types of drugs or controlled substances that are illegal to possess or distribute in New Jersey, including cocaine. Controlled substances are classified into five different schedules of drugs, with each schedule carrying different consequences.

Possession of cocaine in New Jersey must be taken very seriously and the case diligently handled with the utmost care. Fortunately, our Atlantic City cocaine possession defense lawyers can explain how cocaine possession is treated by law enforcement and the courts in New Jersey and the penalties you might face.

Get support from our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers by calling the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956 for a free assessment of your case.

Drug Classifications in New Jersey

In New Jersey and the State of New Jersey, drugs and controlled substances are divided into five different categories or “schedules,” with Schedule V being the least dangerous and Schedule I being the most dangerous. Controlled substances are classified based on factors such as their risk for abuse and dependency and whether they have any other valid medical use. Cocaine is currently a schedule two controlled substance under N.J.S.A. § 24:21-7.

A Schedule I controlled substance is one which has an extremely high potential for abuse and dependency but has no valid medical use. These are the most dangerous drugs and will be treated the most harshly by law enforcement and prosecutors. Schedule II drugs are similar to Schedule I drugs because they also have a high potential for abuse and dependency, but Schedule II drugs have an accepted medical use. Although cocaine is dangerously addictive, it actually has a very limited use as a local anesthetic for certain ear, nose, and throat surgeries. The use of cocaine for a legitimate medical purpose is highly restricted due its highly addictive and dangerous nature.

Schedules III through V contain somewhat less-dangerous controlled substances that have increasingly valid and useful medical purposes. The controlled substances in these categories tend to be less addictive and their effects less dangerous on the human mind and body. Their medical uses are also somewhat less restricted and more common.

Different Types of Cocaine Possession in New Jersey

Drug possession is exactly what it sounds like. When a person has knowingly and purposely obtained an illegal drug or controlled substance, they may be charged with possession. Possession means that the defendant had control over the drug but does not necessarily mean that the drugs were on the defendant’s person. For example, if you keep cocaine in your vehicle, you may be charged with possession even though you were not inside your vehicle at the time of arrest. Nonetheless, you had control over the movement of the drugs.

Possession of a Schedule II drug or controlled substance is classified as a third-degree crime in New Jersey. Third degree crimes carry prison terms of 3 to 5 years. If a defendant is convicted of cocaine possession while in a restricted zone, usually on or near a school zone, they must complete 100 hours of community service in addition to any jail time.

Elements of a Drug Possession Charge

To be charged with a crime, law enforcement and prosecutors must prove two important elements: the defendant’s criminal intent and the criminal act. To put it simply, they must prove the defendant intended to commit a crime and that the crime did in fact happen. This may seem confusing because simply possessing cocaine may not appear to be a criminal act. According to New Jersey law, possession is itself a criminal action. A defendant does not need to do anything with the cocaine in order to be charged. Simply intentionally having control of the drugs is sufficient.

Possession with the Intent to Distribute

Intentional possession of cocaine may lead to criminal charges, but if you also intended to sell or distribute the cocaine, the charges may be upgraded and you will face additional penalties. See below for penalties for possession with the intent to distribute. This not only applies to cocaine, but any other substance a dealer may try to pass off as cocaine. Possessing an imitation controlled substance and passing it off as cocaine may also lead to possession charges. This statute primarily targets drug dealers who sell fake drugs as if they were the real thing. A defendant may still be charged with possession, but of an imitation controlled substance. The imitation substance must be of a similar appearance to the real thing and may be packaged in a similar manner.

Even though the drugs in your possession were fake, you will still be charged as if the drugs were the real thing. Defendants charged with possession of an imitation controlled substance face third-degree crime charges and a fine of up to $200,000.

Penalties for Possession of Cocaine in New Jersey

The typical sentence for a defendant convicted of possession of cocaine is 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $35,000. This is the typical sentence for an ordinary charge for a third-degree crime. However, depending on your circumstances you may be subjected to an extended sentence.

A defendant convicted of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing with the intent to distribute cocaine may face additional sentencing. A defendant may also face additional sentencing if they maintain a facility for producing dangerous controlled substances, employ a minor in the distributing of controlled substances, lead a drug trafficking network, distribute controlled substances on or near school property, and they have been convicted before of manufacturing, distributing, or possession with intent to distribute a dangerous controlled substance. The extended sentencing terms may increase the prison sentence to 5 to 10 years.

Other Potential Consequences of a Cocaine Possession Charge in New Jersey

In addition to expensive fines and a prison sentence, there are several other potential consequences of a cocaine possession charge in New Jersey. For instance, the accused may face any of the following:

Employment Consequences

First, a cocaine possession charge may hinder employment opportunities. Many companies have strict policies against hiring individuals with a criminal record, especially for drug offenses. Accordingly, a conviction for cocaine possession can result in the loss of current employment or difficulties in securing future job opportunities.

Professional Licensing Issues

For those in professions that require licensing, a cocaine possession conviction can jeopardize one’s professional standing. Various licensing boards in New Jersey may take disciplinary action against individuals convicted of drug offenses. This may lead to the suspension or revocation of professional licenses, impacting careers in fields such as law, medicine, or finance. It is essential to recognize the potential threat to one’s professional standing and take appropriate legal steps to mitigate these consequences.

Educational Setbacks

Students facing cocaine possession charges may encounter obstacles in their educational pursuits. Academic institutions often have strict disciplinary codes, and drug convictions can lead to suspension, expulsion, or the loss of scholarships. Moreover, federal financial aid eligibility may be affected because drug convictions can disqualify individuals from receiving aid. Understanding the impact on educational prospects is crucial for individuals facing cocaine possession charges, as it can shape their future opportunities.

Family and Social Stigma

Beyond legal and professional consequences, a cocaine possession charge can result in social and familial challenges. The stigma associated with drug offenses can strain relationships with family and friends. Community perceptions may change, leading to isolation and judgment. Navigating the social repercussions of a drug-related charge requires careful consideration and often involves seeking support from understanding individuals.

Substance Abuse Treatment Requirements

In certain cases, individuals charged with cocaine possession in New Jersey may be required to undergo substance abuse evaluation and treatment as part of their legal proceedings. The court may mandate participation in rehabilitation programs, counseling, or support groups. Failure to comply with these requirements can lead to additional legal consequences. Understanding the potential need for substance abuse treatment and its impact on the legal process is crucial for those facing cocaine possession charges in New Jersey.

Immigration Consequences

Cocaine possession charges can have severe implications for individuals who are not U.S. citizens. Non-citizens may face deportation, denial of naturalization, or other immigration-related consequences. It is essential to consider the immigration implications of a drug-related conviction and seek legal advice to navigate the complexities of both criminal and immigration law.

Loss of Child Custody

A cocaine possession charge in New Jersey may also affect child custody arrangements. Family courts prioritize the well-being of children, and a drug-related conviction can be a determining factor in custody decisions. Parents facing such charges should be aware of the potential impact on their parental rights and take appropriate steps to address concerns raised during custody proceedings.

Financial Challenges

Lastly, a cocaine possession charge in New Jersey can result in significant financial challenges. Beyond fines imposed by the court, legal fees, and potential loss of employment, individuals may face difficulties in obtaining loans or credit. A criminal record can negatively impact creditworthiness, leading to higher interest rates or outright denials for loans, mortgages, or credit cards.

How to Avoid Penalties for Cocaine Possession in New Jersey

The process for fighting a cocaine possession charge can be complicated and tiresome. Fortunately, after reviewing your case, our New Jersey criminal defense attorneys can determine if any of these following defenses are available to you:

Illegal Search and Seizure

One potential defense against a cocaine possession charge in New Jersey involves challenging the legality of the search and seizure leading to the discovery of the alleged drugs. If law enforcement officers violated the Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unlawful search or seizure, then the evidence they obtained may be deemed inadmissible in court. This defense hinges on proving that the police did not have a valid warrant, consent, or probable cause to conduct the search at issue.

Unlawful Traffic Stop

If the initial interaction with law enforcement occurred during a traffic stop, challenging the legality of the stop itself can be a defense strategy. If the stop was conducted without proper justification or violated the defendant’s constitutional rights, any evidence obtained as a result of that stop may be deemed inadmissible.

Lack of Knowledge

Another defense strategy involves demonstrating that the accused lacked knowledge of the presence of cocaine. Prosecutors must establish that the individual knowingly and intentionally possessed the substance. If it can be argued that the accused had no awareness of the presence of cocaine, either because it belonged to someone else or due to other circumstances, it may weaken the prosecution’s case.

Problems with Chain of Custody

Defendants facing cocaine possession charges can also challenge the integrity of the evidence by scrutinizing the chain of custody. If there are gaps or inconsistencies in the handling of the seized substances from the time of collection to presentation in court, it can create doubt about the accuracy and reliability of the evidence.

Crime Lab Analysis Challenges

Challenging the accuracy of the crime lab analysis is another potential avenue for defendants. The accused can question the reliability of the testing procedures, the qualifications of the analysts, or the condition of the equipment used. Any discrepancies in the analysis process may cast doubt on the veracity of the drug test results and provide grounds for a defense against the cocaine possession charge.

Substance Misidentification

Defendants can also challenge the identification of the seized substance. Mistakes can occur during the testing or analysis process, leading to misidentifications. If there is any doubt about the accuracy of the identification of the substance as cocaine, this can be a viable defense strategy.


Lastly, in some cases, defendants may argue that they were entrapped into committing the crime. This defense asserts that law enforcement induced or coerced the defendant into possessing cocaine, and the individual would not have committed the offense without such inducement. Proving entrapment requires demonstrating that the idea and motivation for the crime originated with law enforcement rather than the defendant.

Contact Our Cocaine Possession Lawyer in New Jersey for a Free Consultation

Seek help from our New Jersey criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych by calling (609) 616-4956.

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