Any crime in the US is covered by a law known as the statute of limitations.  This law dictates how long the government has to charge you with an offense.  In many cases, the statute of limitations can protect you from especially old charges if they’ve gone too long without charging you.  In cases of drug possession, the statute of limitations may not be able to help you.  The Atlantic City drug possession defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych offer free consultations on drug possession crimes.  Contact our law offices if you’ve been charged with a crime and need a drug crimes defense attorney.

What is the Statute of Limitations on Drug Charges in NJ?

New Jersey’s statute of limitations changes depending on the classification of the offense.  New Jersey criminal offenses have two major classes.  More severe charges are known as “indictable crimes,” or simply “crimes.”  These offenses carry the potential of more than a year in prison, making them similar to what other states and federal law refer to as felonies.  Less severe offenses are known as “disorderly persons offenses,” and they carry a maximum penalty of 6 months.  This makes them more like other states’ misdemeanors – or even summary offenses/violations.

Under New Jersey law, all disorderly persons offenses have a 1-year statute of limitations.  Most crimes, aside from murder and a few other severe crimes, have a 5-year statute of limitations.  These laws give the time limit that the government has to charge you with a crime.  Police can take their time investigating offenses or discovering who the responsible party is, and then charge you later.  To charge you with an offense, police need probable cause based on specific facts.  This prevents them from randomly charging people, hoping that they got the right person.  Once you have been charged, the statute of limitations no longer prevents your charges, and prosecutors have additional time to gather their case and take you to trial (though that time is limited under NJ’s “speedy trial” laws).

Drug charges in New Jersey change classification based on the amount possessed, the type of drug, and the circumstances.  For instance, simple possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use is a disorderly persons offense.  However, possession with the intent to deliver a small amount of marijuana to another person is a fourth degree crime.  Similarly, cocaine possession can be a third degree crime for personal possession, but a first degree crime for intent to sell any amount.

Whether this is your first offense or not usually does not affect the degree of the charges nor the statute of limitations.

Benefits of the Statute of Limitations for Drug Charges

If the police charge you with a drug crime after the time limit has expired, you may be able to get the case dropped.  Judges are required to drop cases that are charged outside the statute of limitations period.  Additionally, judges may dismiss cases on their own if they see that the case is too old.  This prevents wasting court resources on old charges.

Additionally, statutes of limitations are important for multiple reasons.  First, older cases often have less reliable evidence and witness testimony, which makes the information less reliable and could lead to a higher number of wrongful convictions.  Second, it is unfair for someone who committed a crime to wonder if the charges will catch up to them, especially if police have the evidence to charge them but have not done so.  Third, it is important to prevent wasting court time and money on old, insignificant cases.

With most drug offenses, the statute of limitations will not come up.  Unfortunately, the statute of limitations does not start running until the crime is completed.  That means that if you continue to possess drugs even years after you initially acquired them, you are still committing an ongoing crime and you could be charged at any time.  The statute of limitations only begins to run once you stop possessing the drugs by destroying them, abandoning them, or handing them over to police.

The statute of limitations may also be important in many cases involving confidential informants.  Many police and prosecutors make deals with defendants and agree to drop charges if they help them investigate other crimes.  This may involve acting as an informant or performing controlled buys for police.  Police and prosecutors may leave charges unfiled while you cooperate, agreeing not to file charges if you continue to help.  These charges must be filed within the proper time limit, or else police cannot file them against you.  You should always have an experienced drug possession attorney represent you in discussions with police and prosecutors, especially if they offer you any sort of deal or bargain.

New Jersey Drug Crime Defense Attorney Offering Free Consultations

If you or a loved one was charged with a drug crime in New Jersey, talk to an attorney today.  The Atlantic City criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych will look for every avenue to get charges dropped and dismissed, including looking at the statute of limitations on your case.  For help with your case, contact our law offices today to schedule a free consultation.  Our number is (609) 616-4956.