Understand Drug Possession Penalties in New Jersey
If a traffic stop or knock at your door wound up leading to your arrest on suspicion of drug possession in New Jersey, it’s important that you understand the penalties such crimes may carry under conviction. Numerous factors, such as police or witness testimonies, alleged evidence taken into custody during a search, as well as what type of defense you present may all influence the judge’s or jury’s decision in your case.
What Is the Legal Definition of Drug Possession in the State of New Jersey?
If a New Jersey police officer arrests you for a suspected drug possession crime, it means you’re being accused of knowingly obtaining, holding on your person or controlling an illegal substance. A drug in question might include cocaine, marijuana or heroin, as well as any number of prescription drugs or other illegal substances. Police may charge you with “intent to distribute” an illegal drug if they have evidence that you possessed a certain quantity of a specific drug.
First-Time Possession Charge Doesn’t Equate to a Lighter Penalty
Perhaps you were pulled over in a traffic stop and police searched your vehicle. You wound up getting arrested for possession of an illegal drug. You’ve never faced criminal charges prior to the arrest, so you assume that, if the court convicts you, the penalty will be less severe because it is a first offense.
In New Jersey, the penalty for drug possession depends on the type of drug in question, as well as the amount. Even if it is the first time you’ve been charged with a drug crime, the penalty may still be harsh, depending on the details of your case.
Jail Time and Fines
If the court convicts you of marijuana possession of less than 50 grams, you may face up to six months behind bars, as well as a fine up to $1,000, even if it is your first offense. Any amount more than 50 grams carries a harsher penalty up to 18 months in jail and fines of up to $25,000.
The state categorizes drugs such as heroin, hallucinogens, ecstasy or methamphetamine as controlled substances or narcotics. These and other drugs in this category carry severe consequences under conviction. If you’re convicted of drug possession of substances in this category, you could go to jail for as long as five years and pay fines up to $35,000.
Penalties Often Include More Than Incarceration or Fines
You no doubt want to avoid going to jail if it’s at all possible. However, staying out of jail won’t be your only concern if you are facing drug possession charges in New Jersey. The following list shows additional penalties or repercussions you might incur if you are charged with drug possession crimes:
- Driver’s license restrictions
- Vehicle confiscation
- Need of bail money
The state can suspend your driver’s license if you’re convicted of a drug possession crime. In fact, in certain circumstances, police can seize your vehicle. This is especially true in cases where you might be charged with possession with intent to sell drugs. Also, you may have to come up with bail money in order to be released from jail while you’re awaiting trial. In certain situations, the court may deny your release, and you would have to stay in jail until your case is fully adjudicated. While this is not the same as a penalty under conviction, it is still a negative consequence you might experience after being arrested on suspicion of a drug crime.
Possession of Drug Paraphernalia and Failure of Lawful Disposition
If a police officer doesn’t find any illegal substances in your possession during a search, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be charged with a drug crime. Various items, such as a small pipe, a syringe, scales, etc., may constitute probable cause for a police officer to take you into custody for possession of drug-related paraphernalia. Conviction of such crimes often carry penalties of up to six months in jail and substantial fines.
When you have taken possession of an illegal drug, New Jersey law requires that you hand it over to a law enforcement officer. Not doing so means you have failed to make a lawful disposition, which carries a penalty under conviction of up to half a year in jail. In any case, prosecutors must prove that a substance or item they claim to be an illegal drug or drug-related item is, in fact, actually the substance or item they claim it is. Substantiating such claims is typically accomplished through laboratory testing of the item or items in question.
Extenuating Circumstances That May Have Implications for Your Case
In addition to criminal penalties under conviction of drug possession, facing charges for drug crimes can have negative consequences in other areas of your life. If you’re a college student, for instance, you may incur penalties that result in expulsion or loss of scholarship funds.
If you’re a license professional, you may be at risk for suspension or revocation of your license. In some cases, penalties may be so severe that you would be prohibited from ever practicing in your field again. Such may be the case for teachers, doctors, licensed counselors or other specialized careers.
A Morristown Criminal Defense Lawyer May Help Mitigate Circumstances
What if you’re sitting at home one night and police knock at your door, asking you to allow them entry so that they can have a look around? In such situations, it’s critical that you know your rights and how to protect them. If police search your home, car or person then take you into custody on suspicion of a drug possession crime, a Morristown criminal defense lawyer is a great asset to have as part of your support network. Everything you say and do during a drug investigation may have an impact on the ultimate outcome of your case, including severity of penalties under conviction. In some cases, rather than sentence you to jail time, the judge overseeing your case might place you on probation instead.
An experienced criminal law attorney can help you determine if a personal rights violation occurred at any time leading up to, during or following your arrest. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects you against unlawful searches and seizures. You may also invoke the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answers investigative questions without the presence of legal representation. If police do not have a warrant to enter your home, you do not have to consent to a search, except in certain circumstances where officers would not need to obtain a warrant before entering, such as if they believe a crime is taking place at that moment inside your house. You may request legal representation as soon as you learn that you are the subject of a drug investigation.
Build a Strong Defense From the Start
Facing charges for drug possession is a serious matter that can have far-reaching implications in all aspects of your life. In addition to legal repercussions, being charged with a drug crime may adversely affect your personal life, as well. It can destroy your reputation, cause family problems or place your job at risk. If you wind up with a criminal record, a potential future employer may be hesitant to hire you due to your past drug crime conviction. While these are not legal penalties, they are definitely negative consequences that may occur following a criminal conviction.
Gregg Wisotsky is an experienced defense attorney located in New Jersey. When you request a meeting by calling (973) 898-0161, you’ll be enlisting support from an attorney who has 25 years of experience providing legal defense for those charged with illegal possession, distribution and various other drug crimes. Reach out to our office today.