Cocaine Laws in New Jersey: Offenses and Penalties
If you’ve been arrested for violating New Jersey’s cocaine laws, you’re likely worried about your future and the penalties that you might face. New Jersey spent an annual average of $1.2 billion to arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate people for drug crimes, including cocaine offenses, during the 10 years from 2012 to 2021. Since the state criminalizes drug offenses, it’s critical to understand your charges and get help from an experienced Morristown criminal defense lawyer.
How Serious Are Cocaine Charges in New Jersey?
The Garden State treats all cocaine offenses seriously. Every cocaine crime in New Jersey is an indictable offense, including the possession of minute amounts of cocaine. Here’s a look at some of the most common charges you might face for different cocaine-related offenses in the state.
Simple Cocaine Possession
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10, possessing any amount of cocaine is a third-degree felony. This law makes it illegal for anyone to possess a controlled drug without a valid prescription, and cocaine is a scheduled controlled substance under both state and federal law.
While there is a presumption against incarceration for third-degree indictable offenses in New Jersey, a conviction could result in the following penalties:
- Three to five years in prison
- Six-month suspension of your driver’s license
- Fine of up to a maximum of $35,000
However, the court may not assess these penalties for a first offense. The fact that the simple possession of cocaine carries a presumed non-incarceration sentence means that first-time offenders might be eligible for participation in a pretrial intervention (PTI) program. If accepted into PTI, your charges could be dismissed if you complete all of the program’s terms. This may keep a conviction off of your record.
Cocaine Distribution or Manufacturing
Distributing or manufacturing cocaine is a more serious crime than simple possession. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5, the severity of your charge will depend on the amount of cocaine that you are caught with along with other factors. Cocaine distribution offenses are graded from the least to the most serious as follows:
- Third-degree distribution – Distribution of 0.499 or fewer ounces of cocaine by measured weight
- Second-degree distribution – Distribution of 0.5 ounces up to 4.99 ounces of cocaine
- First-degree distribution – Distribution of 5 or more ounces of cocaine by measured weight
The potential penalties also vary based on the offense’s grading. A third-degree conviction carries a presumption of non-incarceration and a maximum of three to five years in prison, a maximum $35,000 fine, and a six-month loss of your driving privileges.
A second-degree distribution conviction carries from five to 10 years in prison with a presumption of incarceration and a maximum fine of up to $150,000. Finally, a first-degree distribution conviction carries from 10 to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000. Depending on the amount and whether the cocaine crossed state lines, you could also be charged federally.
Potential Defenses to Cocaine Charges in New Jersey
It’s important to note that criminal charges are not evidence of guilt. Instead, the prosecutor must meet a high burden to convict you as charged. The following are a few of the potential defenses that might be raised, depending on the facts and circumstances of your case:
- Lack of reasonable suspicion to support a stop
- Lack of probable cause for a search or arrest
- Failure of the officer to secure a search warrant
- Incorrect weight of the drug
- Lab errors
- Substance was not cocaine
Other defenses might be available depending on your situation.
Get Help From an Experienced Morristown Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you are facing cocaine charges in New Jersey, reaching out to an experienced Morristown criminal defense lawyer may be beneficial. Attorney Greg S. Witosky has decades of experience successfully defending people against all levels of criminal charges. Contact us today by calling 973-898-0161 or 908-229-9714 on evenings or weekends for a consultation.