NJ Sentencing Guidelines for First Time Schedule III Drug Offenses

In New Jersey and many other states, controlled substances fall into a particular classification known as a Schedule. Schedule III controlled substances are not the most severe, but they are not the least either.

Many drug offenses related to Schedule III drugs are considered felonies (known as indictable crimes in New Jersey). Schedule III controlled substances often have legitimate medical uses but also have a significant risk of dependency or abuse. Many of these substances are powerful sedatives or painkillers. Various laws apply to Schedule III controlled substances, including laws against possession, manufacturing, distributing, and more. The penalties for these offenses often include incarceration, although being admitted to a Pretrial Intervention Program might help you avoid a conviction.

If you are facing charges for offenses related to Schedule III drugs, contact our New Jersey drug offense defense lawyers right away. For a free case review, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych at (609) 616-4956.

Factors Considered in Sentencing for First-Time Schedule III Drug Offenses in New Jersey

When sentencing individuals for their first-time Schedule III drug offenses, there are several critical factors that are taken into account by the courts. These factors play a crucial role in determining the severity of specific sentences.

Type and Quantity of the Drug

The specific Schedule III drug involved and the amount in possession or distribution can significantly impact sentencing. Different drugs have varying degrees of severity in the eyes of the law, and larger quantities often lead to harsher penalties. For instance, Schedule III substances like anabolic steroids may be treated differently than medications containing lower amounts of codeine. After being arrested for possession of a Schedule III drug, our New Jersey drug crime defense attorneys can determine how the type and quantity of the drug may affect sentencing in your case.

Criminal History

Even though it’s a first-time offense, the defendant’s prior criminal record can still be a factor. Previous convictions or involvement in criminal activities may influence the judge’s decision regarding sentencing. A clean criminal history may lead to more lenient sentencing, while a record of prior offenses, especially drug-related ones, may result in a harsher penalty. It is essential for defendants to be aware that their past interactions with the law can have a bearing on their current case.

Intent and Purpose

The court will consider whether the defendant’s actions were driven by intent to distribute, sell, or use the drugs personally. Intent to distribute is typically treated more severely than possession for personal use. Establishing intent or lack thereof can be challenging, and it often depends on the circumstances surrounding the arrest. Factors such as the presence of drug paraphernalia, large amounts of cash, or communication related to drug transactions can influence the court’s perception of intent.


The age of the defendant can also be considered. Younger individuals may be more likely to receive sentencing aimed at rehabilitation and education rather than punishment.

Cooperation with Law Enforcement

Cooperation with law enforcement during the investigation and arrest, such as providing information about drug suppliers or networks, may lead to reduced charges or a lighter sentence. This cooperation can be seen as a sign of remorse or a willingness to make amends for one’s actions.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues

If the defendant has documented mental health issues or substance abuse problems, the court may consider treatment and rehabilitation options as an alternative to incarceration. Presenting evidence of such issues and a willingness to seek treatment can be crucial in influencing the court’s sentencing decision.

Mitigating Circumstances

Any unique circumstances surrounding the offense, such as coercion, duress, or being a first-time offender, may be also analyzed by the judge during sentencing. Mitigating circumstances can provide context to the offense and help the court understand why the defendant became involved in the illegal activity. Judges may take these factors into account to tailor sentences that address the underlying issues or hardships faced by the defendant.

Legal Representation

The quality and effectiveness of the defendant’s legal representation can also impact the outcome. For instance, the experienced legal professionals at our firm can efficiently assess a case, identify potential defenses, and negotiate with prosecutors to secure the best possible outcome. We will fight vigorously to defend the rights and interests of our clients.

Impact on Society and Community

Lastly, sentencing decisions may take into account the broader impact of the offense on society and the local community. Judges may consider the need to deter drug-related activities and protect the community when determining sentences. Understanding the potential consequences of one’s actions on the community can provide valuable insight for defendants when crafting defense strategies.

Preparing for a Sentencing Hearing in a Schedule III Drug Case in New Jersey

Facing a sentencing hearing for a Schedule III drug case in New Jersey can be a daunting experience, but thorough preparation can make a significant difference in the outcome. The following are steps and considerations that may assist in your preparation:

Consult with Our Attorneys

Our legal team can help offer thorough guidance and support before, during, and after your sentencing hearing. We will advocate for your interests and ensure that your rights are protected. Further we can provide invaluable insights into the sentencing process and tailor a strategy to your specific case.

Gather Mitigating Evidence

Before your sentencing hearing, you should gather evidence that supports your case and demonstrates factors that may mitigate your sentence. This could include character references, employment history, educational achievements, and evidence of community involvement. If applicable, provide documentation of any substance abuse treatment or counseling you have undertaken.

Demonstrate Remorse and Responsibility

Express genuine remorse for your actions during the sentencing hearing. Taking responsibility for your behavior can positively influence the judge’s perception of you. You may want to discuss any steps you’ve taken to address the issues that led to the offense, such as seeking treatment or counseling.

Dress and Behave Appropriately

You must present yourself professionally and respectfully during the sentencing hearing. Dress in neat, appropriate attire and conduct yourself with proper courtroom decorum.

Be Punctual and Prepared

Arrive at the sentencing hearing on time and fully prepared. The team at our firm can guide you on what to bring and how to handle courtroom procedures.

Anticipate Questions from the Judge

The judge may ask questions to better understand your situation and your plans for rehabilitation. Be prepared to answer these questions honestly and respectfully.

Is a Schedule III Drug Offense a Felony?

Drugs and controlled substances are categorized into Schedules. There are 5 drug Schedules, with Schedule V being the least severe and Schedule I being the most severe. Schedule III drugs and controlled substances fall just about in the middle. There are a wide variety of possible offenses involving Schedule III drugs, including possession, manufacturing, distribution, and more. In general, offenses involving Schedule III drugs are charged at a felony level.

In New Jersey, the legal system does not use the terms “felony” and “misdemeanor.” Instead, the state charges indictable crimes (similar to felonies) and disorderly persons offenses (similar to misdemeanors). If you are charged for an offense related to Schedule III drugs, you will likely be facing an indictable crime. Even so, you should speak with our New Jersey Schedule III drug offense defense attorneys to determine the true extent of your charges.

What is a Schedule III Drug or Controlled Dangerous Substance (CDS)

During the 1970s, Congress passed a piece of legislation known as the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act. In addition to the Controlled Substances Act, or the federal statute related to drug crimes, the Prevention and Control Act also created five numbered categories, known as “Schedules,” for the classification of both illegal street drugs and legal prescription medications. Schedule I drug offenses are typically subject to the greatest penalties, while Schedule V drug offenses typically carry lesser penalties.

In addition to the federal Schedule, which is sometimes updated by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), New Jersey also maintains its own Schedule at the state level, codified at N.J.S.A. § 24:21-5 through N.J.S.A. § 24:21-8.1. Our New Jersey drug crime defense lawyers can help you figure out which Schedule the alleged drugs in your case fall into.

In general, drug Schedules are based on the severity of the controlled substance. Specifically, issues like the drug’s potential for abuse and risk for dependency are heavily considered when determining classifications. Whether a drug has any legitimate medical uses is also taken into consideration. Typically, drugs with a high risk of abuse and dependency and little to no medical uses are classified closer to Schedule I. Meanwhile, drugs with a lower risk for abuse and dependency and perhaps one or more legitimate medical uses are more likely to fall into a less severe category.

What Drugs Are Classified as Schedule III or CDS?

Drug Schedules can be found codified into New Jersey’s statutes. In particular, N.J.S.A. § 24:21-7 governs Schedule III drugs. Under New Jersey law, Schedule III drugs include:

  • Amphetamine
  • Phenmetrazine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methylphenidate (for ADD or ADHD treatment)
  • Barbiturates
  • Codeine
  • Morphine
  • Opium

Other Schedule III drugs under the federal classification system include:

  • Steroids
  • Testosterone

Many of the controlled substances listed above have legitimate medical uses. Various barbiturates can be used as sedatives or to treat anxiety issues. Substances like codeine and morphine have been used in painkillers for many years. Unfortunately, these medications come with a significant risk of abuse and dependency. If you were charged with a crime in relation to a Schedule III drug, our New Jersey drug crime defense attorneys can review your case and help you fight the charges. For many Schedule III drugs, defendants are mistakenly charged because they use the drugs as medication prescribed by a doctor.

What New Jersey Laws Apply to Schedule III Drugs?

Schedule III drugs may be connected to a great many different laws. Various statutes pertain to a plethora of offenses, and different offenses may come with varying levels of penalties. Many defendants are charged under multiple statutes, as many drug offenses tend to overlap or occur together. Our New Jersey Schedule III drug offense defense attorneys can evaluate your charges and determine the best defense for your situation.


One of the more common drug charges is unlawful possession under N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10(1). This law makes knowingly possessing a Schedule III drug a third-degree indictable crime. This includes prescription medications if they were not obtained through a valid prescription from a doctor.

Manufacturing and Distribution

Another law, N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-5, makes it illegal to manufacture, distribute, or dispense controlled substances, including Schedule III drugs. The specific charges may depend on the exact substance allegedly involved and, in some cases, the quantity. You can expect to be charged with at least a third-degree indictable crime for many Schedule III controlled substances.

Larger Drug Operations

Many drug offenses are connected to bigger criminal schemes or enterprises. For example, a defendant alleged to be selling drugs might be part of a large network of distributors who work for a drug manufacturer. In these kinds of large-scale operations, there are numerous players and roles, and there are different charges depending on your alleged role in the scheme. Charges related to larger criminal schemes or networks tend to be very severe, and you should speak to our New Jersey drug offense defense lawyer about your charges as soon as possible.

Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-3, a person may be charged as the leader of a narcotics trafficking network. A person may be considered the leader if they conspire with two or more people in a plan to make, sell, or transport certain kinds of drugs, including several Schedule III drugs (methamphetamine and phencyclidine). This is a first-degree crime and may be punished very harshly.

A defendant can also be charged under N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-6 for employing a juvenile as part of a drug distribution scheme or network. This charge typically leads to an increase in the potential mandatory minimum sentence if the defendant is convicted. It is not a defense that the defendant was unaware of the minor’s true age when they employed them as part of the drug scheme.

Penalties for Schedule III Drugs in New Jersey

Most drug crimes relate either to simple possession, which is the possession of CDS for personal use, or possession with intent to deliver (PWID). Other, less commonly charged offenses include trafficking, manufacture, and the sale or possession of paraphernalia. Possession can be “actual,” which means the defendant allegedly had drugs on his or her person, or “constructive,” which means the defendant was in a position to exert control over drugs at a nearby location.

Possession of CDS is governed by N.J.S.A. § 2C-35:10, which makes possession of any Schedule III drug a third-degree crime, equivalent to a third-degree felony. While state law permits a maximum fine of up to $35,000 and a maximum prison sentence of up to five years in prison for this offense, it is often possible for non-violent offenders with otherwise clean records to participate in diversionary programs, such as PTI, which is described in the following section.

The manufacture and distribution of drugs are addressed in a separate statute, N.J.S.A. § 2C-35:5. With some exceptions, producing, selling, or otherwise distributing Schedule III CDS is a third-degree crime, subject to a fine of up to $25,000 and a prison term of three to five years.

One of these exceptions is phencyclidine, or PCP. The way a charge of selling or manufacturing PCP is categorized depends on the quantity of PCP involved, as follows:

  • 10 grams or more
    • Grading – First degree crime
    • Fine – Up to $500,000
    • Sentence – Up to 20 years, with a minimum prison term between one-third and one-half the sentence ordered by the court with no possibility of parole
  • Less than 10 grams
    • Grading – Second degree crime
    • Fine – Up to $150,000
    • Sentence – Up to 10 years

What is Pretrial Intervention (PTI) in New Jersey?

Pretrial Intervention is a diversionary program which places an emphasis on rehabilitation instead of punishment. If you are accepted into PTI, your sentence will be suspended while you work to complete the program, which is similar to probation. You must follow certain rules for the duration of the program, which typically lasts anywhere from one to three years, such as abstaining from drug use and performing community service.

If you are able to complete the program successfully, there can be enormous benefits. Not only will you avoid going to prison, there will also be no record of your conviction, which will make your life easier when it comes to applying for jobs, loans, and professional licenses and certifications.

PTI guidelines vary from county to county, but generally speaking, the program:

  • Is intended for adult residents of New Jersey.
  • Is intended for indictable crimes (felonies).
  • Does not accept offenders who have already participated in diversionary programs in the past.
    • People who are currently on probation or parole are generally excluded, but may be approved with authorization from the prosecutor.

Who Qualifies for PTI in New Jersey?

Many defendants want to get into PTI because it allows them to avoid conviction and begin the process of rehabilitation from drug use. Unfortunately, not all defendants are eligible, and many will be turned away. If you meet the criteria for PTI, our New Jersey drug crime defense attorneys can help you get into the program and hopefully avoid a criminal conviction.

First, PTI is a program for adult offenders. Juvenile offenders are not eligible for PTI, although there might be other programs that juvenile offenders can participate in. Second, PTI is aimed at people with serious drug dependency problems. In many cases, people charged with possessing or buying drugs because they are feeding a severe drug habit are more likely to get accepted into PTI. People whose alleged crimes consist primarily of distributing drugs rather than consuming them are less likely to get into PTI because they do not have a dependency issue.

The nature of your alleged offense is also taken into consideration. For the most part, the program is open to first-time offenders with non-violent drug charges. If you have a long criminal history or your alleged offense involved an act of violence, you might not get into the program.

Contact Our New Jersey Schedule III Drug Offense Defense Attorneys Today

If you were arrested for the sale or possession of Schedule III CDS in Atlantic County, Cape May County, or the surrounding area, turn to the experienced drug crime lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych for aggressive legal representation. Call us at (609) 616-4956 to set up your free case evaluation.

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