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What Are the Consequences of a Drug Charge?

Posted on: May 2, 2022

A drug charge can devastate your life and any plans you had for the future. You could face prison, substantial fines, a criminal record, probation, and many other negative consequences. If you or a loved one have been arrested on drug charges in New Jersey, you need skilled legal guidance and advocacy. Your freedoms are at risk—do not take these charges lightly.

Types of Drug Charges

There are many drug charges people can face in New Jersey. Here are the most common:

  • Possession: When someone has a controlled substance in their possession, they may face this charge.
  • Intent to distribute: This occurs when someone has a substantial amount of a controlled substance in their possession, which is usually interpreted by law enforcement as an intent to sell the substance off in smaller amounts.
  • School zone sale: This charge occurs when a person sells drugs or intends to sell drugs within 1000 feet of a school or property used for schooling purposes

Possession or Intent to Distribute

Possession of an illegal drug occurs when a person carries that drug with them, whether that be in a pocket, a bag, or in their car. If caught, people in this situation might face a possession charge if the amount of drug they carry is small enough.

If the drugs being carried are in a larger quantity, the person could face an intent to distribute charge. This is a much more serious crime, and as such comes with substantially higher penalties. Generally, if the amount is too much for personal use, you can expect an intent to distribute charge on top of the possession charge.

Drugs in Cars

Often, a person is pulled over and the police officer spots drug paraphernalia or actual drugs in the car. If you are driving a car and you know you are carrying drugs, you can be charged with possession.

But even if you do not know drugs are in the car, you may still be charged with possession. As the driver, you are responsible for knowing everything that is being carried and, if a passenger has an illegal substance in their pocket, you could be charged with possession, too.


Some common drugs people are arrested for in New Jersey and their penalties are as follows:

  • Cocaine: A conviction could result in up to five years in prison and fines up to $75,000. People may also lose their driver’s license, be required to take drug education courses, provide community service, and enter probation.
  • Heroin: A conviction may result in up to five years in prison and fines up to $35,000. If the amount of heroin in a person’s possession was large, they may be faced with an intent to distribute charge, which would increase the penalties.
  • Prescription drugs: The sale of prescription drugs could result in prison time up to 10 years and fines up to $300,000.

There are also different degrees of drug crimes. Depending on the type of drug you were carrying, the amount, and many other factors, you could be charged with several different crimes of varying degrees.

A misdemeanor is the lowest degree you could face. If you are found to be in possession of a drug and have four or fewer dosage units of that drug, you may only face a misdemeanor. This usually does not come with much prison time—up to six months in jail—but will come with fines, drug education programs, and possibly probation.

A fourth-degree crime is committed when you are found in possession of four or fewer units of an illegal drug. You could face up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000, plus probation.

Possession of five to 99 units of a drug is a third-degree crime. When found with an amount greater than personal consumption, you may be charged with intent to distribute, especially if you are carrying closer to 99 units. Conviction of a third-degree crime can put you in prison for up to five years and result in fines up to $200,000. When you get out of prison, you will probably end up on probation for many years.

Possession of 100 or more units of a drug is a second-degree crime and will probably include an intent to distribute charge. Here, you face up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $300,000. You will also be on probation for many years after your release from prison.

Your Rights Are at Risk

When you get arrested for a drug crime, your rights are at risk. While a traffic ticket is something you could probably handle on your own, the most serious penalty you likely face in that instance is a couple of points on your license. Drug charges can restrict your freedoms for the rest of your life.

The police and prosecutor will do everything in their power to convict you of the most serious charge possible. Because they are in pursuit of a conviction, it is possible that they may have done some things wrong during the arrest or formal charging process. Any evidence you can provide to your attorney of this misconduct can be used to lower or even eliminate your drug charge. If the police violated your constitutional rights, evidence of those violations could be cause to void anything you may have said to the police.

If the police searched your car without your permission or without reasonable suspicion of the presence of illegal drugs, a skilled lawyer could get any evidence obtained in that search thrown out. Your lawyer could also argue that if you were not in physical possession of the drugs, your case may be dismissed.

Even in cases where the evidence against you is strong, you do not have to give in and just accept whatever happens to you. You still have legal options and you can still fight. Reducing your criminal charge to a lesser offense can have positive impacts on your life.

If you go to prison, you may not be able to get a good job when you get out. You may be on probation for many years, which can present challenges to working and living as you did before your conviction. Working with a skilled legal team to reduce your charge now is a significantly better than trying to fight the charges or deal with the consequences after a conviction.

You could negotiate with the prosecutor to enter into a pretrial diversion program. This is a great option to delay a sentence by giving you the opportunity to prove that this was a onetime mistake and it will not occur again. If successful, a pretrial diversion program can keep you out of prison and keep a conviction off your permanent criminal record.

You could also try to be placed in a drug rehabilitation program. Instead of jail or prison, a mandatory inpatient drug rehabilitation program works to help you get out of a bad cycle, choosing to eliminate drugs from your life. Doing this can be difficult, but it is a much better alternative to prison.

These are just a few options you have at your disposal. When you partner with a skilled legal advocate, they can help you figure out what the best option is for your exact situation.

The Monmouth County Criminal Defense Lawyers at Ellis Law Protect Your Rights

If you are arrested on a drug charge, your freedom and your rights are at risk. Do not risk losing any of your rights. Speak with our Monmouth County criminal defense lawyers at Ellis Law. Contact us today at 732-308-0200 to schedule your free consultation with our experienced team. We serve our neighbors in Freehold, 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.

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