What Happens if You Are Convicted of Drug Possession if You Have No Prior Criminal History?

Drug possession accounts for a huge number of arrests in New Jersey. Over 42,000 people were incarcerated for drug violations in 2011, accounting for about 17.4% of the state’s inmate population.

Many people who are charged with drug possession are non-violent, first-time offenders who have never been through the criminal justice system before. They face their charges feeling frightened, anxious, and alone, wondering what will happen next and how their lives will be impacted. In an effort to help educate defendants and their loved ones about the potential outcomes of a conviction, our Atlantic City drug possession attorneys have compiled a simple legal guide which covers:

  • New Jersey’s criminal penalties for drug possession.
  • Some of New Jersey’s alternative sentencing programs, which allow participants to avoid jail.
  • Expunging, or sealing, a criminal record in New Jersey.

If one of your loved ones was arrested for drug possession in Atlantic City or the surrounding area, it’s important to make sure their Constitutional rights are being protected. At the Law Offices of John J. Zarych, our passionate and knowledgeable legal team brings more than 45 years of combined experience to each case we handle. We work with both adults and juveniles across Cape May County, Atlantic County, and Ocean County. To set up a free, confidential legal consultation, call us today at (609) 616-4956. Se habla español.

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NJ Penalties for Possession of Controlled Substances: Fines and Sentencing

There are two kind of drug possession charges: possession with intent to deliver, or “PWID,” and simple possession, or possession for personal use. The main factors which separate these crimes are (1) the amount of drugs involved, and (2) the presence of items like weighing scales and individual baggies, which would indicate sales and distribution.

The penalties for drug possession depend largely on the quantity and type of drug, or “controlled dangerous substance” (CDS). Use and possession of CDS is governed by N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-10, which makes it illegal for any person to “knowingly or purposely [obtain or possess]… a controlled dangerous substance or controlled substance analog,” whether such possession is “actual” (meaning the person is in direct possession of narcotics) or “constructive” (meaning the person has the ability to exercise control over narcotics located somewhere nearby). Drugs which are illegal to possess in New Jersey include:

  • Cocaine
  • Crack
  • Ecstasy
  • GHB
  • Heroin
  • Ketamine
  • LSD (Acid)
  • Methamphetamine
  • Psilocybin Mushrooms
  • Steroids

It is also illegal to possess prescription drugs without a valid prescription from a licensed physician.

The possession of a Schedule IV, Schedule III, Schedule II, or Schedule I drug, which covers most narcotics, is a third degree crime. The offender may be fined up to $35,000 and sentenced to up to five years in prison. Schedule V drug possession is a fourth degree crime, subject to a fine of up to $15,000 and a sentence of up to 18 months.

Recreational marijuana (cannabis) is also illegal in New Jersey, but is governed by a separate set of laws. Possession of 50 grams of marijuana or less is a DP offense, subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail. Possession of drug paraphernalia, such as pipes or needles, is also a DP offense. Possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana is an indictable crime, subject to a fine of up to $25,000 and up to 18 months in prison.

Penalties for drug possession of any kind can be dramatically enhanced if the offense took place in a school zone (within 1,000 feet of a school), or involved distribution of drugs to minors or a pregnant woman.

Avoiding Jail Time: Drug Courts, Conditional Discharge, and Pretrial Intervention

The penalties described in the previous section don’t necessarily represent the guaranteed outcome of a criminal conviction. Many non-violent drug offenders with clean criminal records are good candidates for New Jersey’s various alternative sentencing programs, such as Drug Court, Pretrial Intervention (PTI), or conditional discharge (CD). These programs focus on supervised treatment rather than incarceration.

Drug Court is designed to help people recover from substance abuse issues, so that they will not reoffend in the future. In 2012, Governor Chris Christie expanded New Jersey’s existing Drug Court program by signing P.L. 2012, c. 23, which compels mandatory participation by people who otherwise wouldn’t qualify to participate in Drug Court on a voluntary basis. The program involves intensive supervised probation which can last for up to five years. During this time, participants must follow program rules, such as being drug tested, getting treatment or counseling as necessary, and attending court hearings. If a participant successfully completes Drug Court, he or she will not have to go to jail.

Pretrial Intervention is geared toward indictable crimes, or felonies, which are heard in Superior Court. The typical duration of PTI ranges from one year to 18 months. Participation in PTI requires approval from the county’s probation department, as well as the prosecutor. A rejection by the prosecutor may be challenged, or appealed, by the PTI applicant with help from his or her attorney. If the participant completes PTI successfully, the charges against him or her will be dismissed.

Conditional discharge is similar to PTI, but is geared toward DP offenses, which are heard in Municipal Court. Conditional discharge generally lasts for one year. Like Drug Court and PTI, conditional discharge requires compliance with certain rules and restrictions. If the participant is able to complete the program successfully, the charges against him or her will be dismissed, just like they would be in PTI.

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Seal Your Criminal Record with an Expungement

A criminal record is a heavy burden to bear. Even though laws have been enacted to protect former offenders from discrimination, the harsh truth is that people with criminal histories often struggle to be hired for jobs, approved for student loans, and approved for professional licenses and certifications. These types of financial, educational, and professional obstacles continue to unfairly punish the offender long after his or her case has resolved.

Fortunately, many New Jersey drug offenders are eligible for something called an expungement, which means your record will be sealed from the general public. Critically, the vast majority of employers and businesses will not be able to view your criminal record, nor will you have to disclose your arrest or conviction on a job application (with specific exceptions for courts, police departments, and corrections departments). Outside of these exceptions, N.J.S.A. § 2C:52-27 provides that “if an order of expungement is granted, the arrest, conviction and any proceedings related thereto shall be deemed not to have occurred, and the petitioner [for the expungement] may answer any questions relating to their occurrence accordingly.

If your son or daughter was arrested for drug possession in New Jersey, or if you have been charged with the possession of narcotics, experienced legal representation can make the difference between years of jail time and an alternative sentencing program. To start discussing your case in a free and completely private legal consultation, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych right away at (609) 616-4956.