According to federal and state drug possession laws, it is a crime to possess illegal controlled substances, such as marijuana, cocaine, LSD, and heroin, as well as chemicals that are used to cultivate and manufacture drugs. New Jersey imposes severe penalties for drug charges, particularly if the individual is charged with the intent to distribute, deal, or sell drugs to minors. These penalties include steep fines, felony charges, and even prison time, depending on the nature of the crime. For example, if an individual is facing a marijuana possession charge in New Jersey, the penalty will depend on the amount of marijuana that he or she had. Whatever the charges, facing a drug possession charge can be frightening and overwhelming, particularly if the accused faces prison time. An experienced criminal defense lawyer will review the charges and determine the most effective defense strategy that will result in the best possible outcome.
What are the Different Ways I can Be Charged with Drug Possession?
In the state of New Jersey, drug possession charges are carried out in the following ways:
- Summons: This includes the specific charges being brought against the accused and includes an initial date that he or she must appear in court. This is the most common procedural method.
- Warrant: In addition to informing the accused of the charges, a warrant allows the police officer to arrest the individual and transport them to the county jail. They will be required to appear before a judge, who will decide whether to release the accused until the pending trial or keep them detained.
- Indictment: This is a charging document issued by a state grand jury. This is returned when a majority of the grand jury votes find that there is enough evidence for probable cause. Indictments occur only with felony offenses.
- Accusation: This is a charging document used by the county prosecutor’s office to facilitate the plea-bargaining process in Superior Court. The accused must waive his or her right to an indictment to plead guilty to an accusation.
Examples of Defense Strategies
When facing a drug possession charge, there are a range of defense strategies that a criminal defense lawyer may pursue based on the circumstances of the case. Some are rare defenses, whereas others are more common. Examples include the following:
- Fourth Amendment violations: If evidence of drug possession is collected through an illegal search and seizure, the evidence is inadmissible in court. An illegal search and seizure occurs when the arresting officer does not have a valid search warrant. When this is the case, the accused does not have to allow the officer to conduct a search, nor does he or she need to answer questions about the marijuana use or possession.
- Challenging constructive possession: If the accused was not in possession of the illicit drugs and can provide evidence to support this, a criminal defense lawyer can show that the drugs belonged to someone else. However, if the accused was not in possession of the drug, the state can still prove possession. If there was no evidence of possession, the accused may be viewed by the court as having knowledge of the drug’s presence. For example, the accused could face constructive possession charges if he or she was at a friend’s home where police found illegal drugs after executing a search warrant.
- Crime laboratory errors: The prosecution must be able to prove that the drug that was seized was an illicit drug. Crime laboratories can prove that a substance in question is marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or any other illegal drug. However, if mistakes happen during the laboratory analysis, the prosecution may not be able to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Examples of crime laboratory errors include mishandling the substance, mislabeling, and losing the substance.
- Missing drugs: If the illegal drugs in question went missing, the case could be dismissed. It is not unusual for seized drugs to be transferred several times before making it to the evidence locker. When there are multiple transfers, there is a greater chance of the evidence getting lost.
- Drugs were planted: This is one of the more difficult defense strategies to prove because the jury tends to believe a police officer’s sworn testimony. In addition, officers are not known for blowing the whistle on fellow officers. However, a criminal defense lawyer can file a motion that will require the police department to release any complaints that have been filed against an officer. The individuals who made the complaints can be interviewed by the defense lawyer or a private investigator to determine whether there is a history of planting evidence.
- Entrapment: When a police officer or law enforcement officials pressure a suspect to commit a crime he or she would not otherwise have committed, this is entrapment. For example, if a suspect is forced into dealing drugs to a third party and the state provides the drugs in question, this will likely be considered entrapment.
- Medical marijuana exception: Medical marijuana became legal in New Jersey in 2010 when the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act made it legal to possess a certain amount of marijuana if it is being used for medicinal purposes. If an individual is charged with marijuana possession, they must show the law enforcement officer the prescription card that confirms that they are legally permitted to possess the drug.
- Small amount of marijuana: If the accused possessed up to 10 grams of marijuana, it is a civil charge punishable by a fine of up to $200. If the accused possessed more than 10 grams, it is a misdemeanor crime, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500 for the first offense. Additional offenses can come with penalties of up to six years in jail and a $25,000 fine. Charges can often be reduced if the accused only possessed a small amount of marijuana.
- No evidence: To convict someone of a drug-related crime, the court must find the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If the prosecution does not have enough evidence to support the claim that the accused possessed over 10 grams of marijuana, he or she cannot be convicted of a crime.
What Penalties Could I Face for a Drug Possession Charge?
The penalties for drug possession will depend on a number of circumstances, including the type of drug, the amount of the drug, and whether the individual intended to distribute the drug. The following are examples of possible drug possession penalties:
- Simple possession of more than 50 grams of marijuana: Up to 18 months in prison, $500 to $15,000 in fines, loss of driver’s license, and mandatory drug rehabilitation classes.
- Possession of narcotics or controlled substances: Up to five years in prison, $1,000 to $25,000 in fines, loss of driver’s license, and mandatory drug education of rehabilitation classes.
- Possession of drug paraphernalia: This is an additional charge and comes with a prison term of six months, as well as up to $1,000 in fines and a suspended driver’s license.
- Possession with intent to distribute: The most severe penalties are associated with Schedule I, II, and III drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamines.
- Distribution of less than half an ounce of heroin or cocaine results in three to five years in prison and up to $75,000 in fines
- Distribution of less than half an ounce of methamphetamines results in up to five years in prison and a maximum of $75,000 in fines
- Distribution of a half an ounce to less than five ounces of heroin or cocaine results in five to 10 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines
- Distribution of half an ounce to less than five ounces of methamphetamines results in up to 10 years in prison and a maximum of $150,000 in fines
- Distribution of over five ounces of heroin or cocaine results in up to 25 years in prison with a mandatory service of at least one-third of the sentence and a fine of up to $500,000
- Distribution of over five ounces of methamphetamines results in up to 25 years in prison and up to $300,000 in fines
- Distribution of marijuana:
- Less than one ounce results in fines of up to $10,000 and a prison term of up to 18 months
- One ounce to less than five ounces results in up to five years in prison and fines of up to $25,000
- Five pounds to less than 25 pounds results in up to 10 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines
- Twenty-five pounds or more results in up to 25 years in prison and a maximum of $300,000 in fines
Freehold Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Represent Clients Facing Drug Possession Charges
If you or someone you know has been accused of drug possession, it is in your best interest to contact the Freehold criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law as soon as possible. We will work closely with you to review the details of your case and determine the most effective defense strategy to ensure that the charges are reduced or dropped. Our dedicated legal team will protect your legal rights every step of the way. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online. Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.