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Sentencing Guidelines for First Time Schedule I Drug Offenses

In New Jersey, drugs and illicit substances are classified as “Schedules.” Drugs will be classified as Schedule I, II, III, IV, or V, with Schedule I being the most serious and Schedule V being the least.

Drug classifications are broken down into five unique Schedules. Schedule I drugs and controlled substances have the highest potential for abuse and have little to no accepted medical uses in the United States. However, depending on their circumstances, first-time offenders might be treated with some leniency. Schedule I drugs Possession of a Schedule I drug will be charged according to the amount of the drug in your control – the greater the amount, the greater the penalties. Under certain circumstances, there may be additional penalties, such as having drugs near a school. First-time offenders can use their previously clean criminal records as a mitigating factor in favor of a lesser sentence. They may also take advantage of certain sentencing alternatives that are only available to first-time offenders.

Our South Jersey drug offense lawyers can help you determine the extent of your potential penalties. You can arrange a free case review by calling the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.

What Should I Do After Being Arrested for My First Ever Schedule I Drug Offense in New Jersey?

If you are facing charges for your first ever offense, the very first thing you should do is contact an attorney immediately. Our New Jersey drug offense lawyers can help you through the criminal justice process and hopefully use your first-time offender status to your advantage.

The judicial process is likely very new to you as a first-time offender. It is important to know that if the police question you while they have you in custody, you should refuse to answer questions and demand to have a lawyer present. These are your rights as a criminal suspect, and your demands for a lawyer cannot be used against you later.

Our attorneys can help you work with law enforcement and prosecutors to reduce your charges. This might involve programs like PTI or drug court. It might also involve cooperating with law enforcement to catch more serious drug offenders. If you have crucial information about other drug offenders who may be far more dangerous than yourself, we can offer your assistance to the police in exchange for immunity. The police would usually rather arrest and charge habitual drug offenders over a first-timer.

What Are the Five Schedules of Drugs in New Jersey?

There is a wide variety of controlled substances in existence, and distinguishing them from each other can sometimes be difficult. New Jersey classifies drugs and controlled substances into five different categories known as “Schedules.” Generally, Schedules are based on the seriousness of a substance, although other factors may determine how a particular drug is classified.

There are five different drug Schedules, with Schedule I being the most serious and Schedule V being the least. Classifications are predominantly based on the addictive nature of a drug, its health risks, any potential for abuse, and possible legitimate medical purposes. Drugs in Schedule I tend to be quite severe, with the highest propensity for abuse and health risks and the fewest legitimate medical purposes.

Controlled substances do not always fall neatly into a Schedule. Many controlled substances are useful medications prescribed by doctors, but they may still be very dangerous if abused. As research involving controlled substances continues to emerge, they may be reclassified.

Schedule I controlled substances are among the most serious, and courts may be reluctant to show leniency even to first-time offenders. Certain drug-related offenses may come with mandatory minimum sentencing requirements that cannot be avoided no matter what. Even so, our New Jersey drug offense lawyers can help you use your status as a first-time offender in other ways if alternative sentencing methods are available.

How First-Time Offenders Are Penalized for Schedule I Drug Crimes in New Jersey

A complete list of Schedule I controlled substances can be found under N.J.S.A. § 24:21-5 of New Jersey law. According to N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-5, it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess any illegal drug or controlled substance. If you possess a Schedule I narcotic drug in an amount of one ounce or more, you may be charged with a second-degree crime. For an amount less than one ounce, you may be charged with a third-degree crime.

It is important to consult with an attorney about the details of your case because certain kinds of Schedule I drugs receive different treatment under the law. For example, heroin and marijuana are both classified as Schedule I drugs, yet both come with different penalties. Having five ounces or more of heroin may lead to charges for a first-degree crime. However, you must have at least 25 pounds of marijuana to be charged with a first-degree crime.

The law does not differentiate between first-time offenders and subsequent offenders regarding Schedule I drug offenses. However, you might be eligible for certain diversion programs as a first-time offender. Drug offenders who may be eligible for New Jersey’s drug court program must be non-violent offenders with serious substance abuse problems. Completion of the program may allow you to avoid incarceration and a criminal record. While being a first-time offender is not necessarily required, it may help you get into the program. Speak to our New Jersey drug offense attorneys about the penalties in your case.

Which Drugs Are Classified as Schedule I Drugs in New Jersey?

The list of Schedule I drugs and controlled substances, as stated above, can be found under N.J.S.A. § 24:21-5. The list is very long and includes many different controlled substances, such as heroin, LSD, acid, MDMA, and marijuana. If you are unsure how your allegedly possessed controlled substance is classified, speak with our New Jersey drug offense lawyers to determine where you stand.

Drugs and controlled substances are classified into different Schedules based on several factors. These factors include the potential for addiction and abuse and whether the substance has an accepted medical use in the United States. To be classified as Schedule I, a controlled substance must have a very high potential for abuse with a serious chance for addiction. Also, Schedule I drugs have almost zero accepted medical uses. Any existing medical uses are considered too dangerous even under medical supervision.

It is crucial to speak with an attorney about your charges because your penalties will be different for different types of drugs. Not all Schedule I drugs are treated the same. Laws regarding some drugs, like marijuana, are currently in flux.

Will First-Time Offenders Get Less Severe Penalties for Schedule I Drugs in New Jersey?

Although the law does not explicitly carve out special exceptions for first-time offenders, judges and courts might have some discretion to impose lighter sentences or sentencing alternatives. As discussed earlier, Schedule I drug offenses are extremely serious and might come with mandatory sentencing requirements. However, if the judge in your case has some discretionary sentencing power, we can use your status as a first-time offender to your benefit.

Even if the judge has no room for discretion in sentencing, there might still be hope. Alternative sentencing programs like drug court are often designed for first-time offenders and focus more on rehabilitation than punishment. Our New Jersey drug offense lawyers can help you get into one of these programs if you are eligible.

The Mitigating Factor of a First Offense

Judges are required to follow sentencing guidelines imposed by the state. These guidelines often include indeterminate sentencing ranges for certain offenses. If a judge has the discretion and authority to do so, they can weigh mitigating and aggravating factors to determine how to hand down a sentence. Even for serious Schedule I controlled substances, your status as a first-time offender may be used as a mitigating factor.

Mitigating factors are details about your case that make you look good to a judge or jury. For example, cooperating with the police or showing great remorse for your actions may influence the judge when they decide your sentence. Our New Jersey drug offense attorneys can use your status as a first-time offender to persuade the judge to impose a lesser sentence. A lack of a criminal history may go a long way in a sentencing hearing.

We may combine your first-time offender status with various other mitigating factors in your case. For example, if you cooperated with law enforcement during a criminal investigation, have apologized or shown remorse, or made an effort to cease any drug-related activities before the police even got involved, the court might show leniency.

Sentencing Alternatives for First-Time Offenders

As a first-time offender, it is possible that you can take advantage of certain sentencing alternatives. The Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) is designed for first-time offenders who are likely to benefit from rehabilitation rather than punishment. Another option is to apply for New Jersey’s drug court program, which is also geared toward first-time offenders.

PTI is typically reserved for first-time offenders and provides them with rehabilitative measures rather than an outright punishment. Some programs include in PTI include counseling, education courses, drug and alcohol treatment, and more. Getting into PTI is not guaranteed, and our New Jersey drug offense attorneys can help you apply. If the court believes you will benefit from PTI and can meet all of the program’s requirements, you might be accepted.

Drug court is another alternative program that allows first-time offenders to avoid a harsh sentence in favor of rehabilitative measures. This program is generally aimed at defendants who are not only first-time offenders but also have serious drug dependency problems. We can help recommend you to the program if this sounds like you.

Completion of these programs often involves a plea in abeyance. Essentially, you would plead guilty to the charges, but the judge will set aside your guilty plea until your program is complete. Once complete, the judge can throw out your guilty plea and dismiss your charges, and you will not have a conviction on your record. Failure to complete the program means the judge must formally enter your guilty plea, and you will face traditional sentencing for the conviction.

Marijuana as a Schedule I Drug in New Jersey

Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug in New Jersey. In years past, a drug offender charged with marijuana-related offenses would face rather serious penalties. However, marijuana has recently been the topic of political discussion, and many states are legalizing or decriminalizing it. While New Jersey still classified marijuana as Schedule I, it is not punished as harshly as it used to be.

As mentioned above, a very large amount, like 25 pounds, of marijuana may be charged as a more serious crime. However, smaller amounts may be met with far less severe penalties. As of 2021, anyone in New Jersey may possess up to 6 ounces of marijuana with no penalty. However, you may not consume marijuana in public places or while driving. Essentially, having marijuana only for recreational use is no longer a crime. However, possession of large quantities with the intent to illegally distribute may be met with legal action.

In general, having small amounts of marijuana is no longer the crime it used to be. However, the sale of marijuana may still be illegal, and possession with the intent to distribute may still lead to criminal consequences.

If you are facing marijuana-related charges, speak with our New Jersey drug offense lawyers about your case. Law enforcement may be slow to catch up as laws change, and your marijuana charges could be unnecessarily high. The debate surrounding marijuana is ongoing, and the law regarding marijuana offenses may continue to change.

Call Our New Jersey Drug Offense Attorneys for a Case Review Today

If you were charged with a drug-related offense involving a Schedule I controlled substance, you should speak with an attorney as soon as you can. Schedule a free case evaluation with our Cape May drug offense lawyers by calling the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.