Is Cocaine Possession a Felony Charge in New Jersey?
Possession of even small amounts of cocaine is a felony charge in New Jersey. Cocaine charges are serious criminal offenses in the state, and penalties are harsh. Under New Jersey law, cocaine is a controlled dangerous substance. Under federal statutes, it is listed as a schedule II drug. Keep in mind that New Jersey does not use the same terminology for criminal charges as other jurisdictions. Minor crimes are not considered misdemeanors as in other states but are referred to as a disorderly person charge. What falls under the category of felonies in other venues is called indictable offenses in New Jersey. Cocaine possession is an indictable offense.
A criminal defense lawyer at Breslow Law Offices protects your rights while promoting a vigorous defense. We will explore every avenue to have the charges dropped and if you are found guilty, try to get you into a diversionary program or help you avoid jail time or fines.
Possession of Cocaine in New Jersey: N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10 it is unlawful to possess any amount of cocaine in New Jersey, and any crime involving cocaine possession is considered a third-degree indictable felony. These offenses entail punishments including a 3 to a 5-year prison term, a maximum fine of $35,000, and a 6-month period of driver’s license suspension.
It is important to note, however, that third-degree crimes entail a presumption of non-incarceration. This allows for viable alternatives to incarceration for first-time offenders, including probation and diversionary programs such as Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). Upon enrollment in PTI, a defendant’s charges are suspended and ultimately dismissed if the defendant successfully completes program requirements during the probationary period.
When Can Cocaine Charges Be Dropped?
There are circumstances under which criminal charges can be dropped. These include incorrect filling out of documents by police, improperly obtained or lost evidence, or no probable cause found. Each case is unique, with its own specifications, and that is what your attorney will consider when putting together the defense.
Criminal defense attorneys launch a thorough investigation of the situation surrounding the drug charges. Under the Constitution, you are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. When a cocaine arrest takes place after a traffic stop, the charges may be dropped if the stop was unconstitutional. The same holds true if there was no probable cause for law enforcement to search the vehicle. When evidence is improperly obtained, your lawyer can file a motion to suppress the evidence.
Manufacturing, Distributing or Dispensing Cocaine in New Jersey: N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5
Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5 it is illegal to distribute cocaine in New Jersey. With regard to cocaine distribution offenses, the level of severity of these charges is contingent upon the amount, specifically, the measured weight of the substance associated with the alleged offense. The grading of cocaine distribution charges and associated consequences are as follows:
- First Degree Cocaine Distribution: involves 5 or more ounces of cocaine, including any adulterants or dilutants; punishable by a term of incarceration ranging from 10 to 20 years in New Jersey State Prison and a maximum fine of $500,000
- Second Degree Cocaine Distribution: involves cocaine in an amount ranging from 1/2 an ounce to 5 ounces; punishable by a term of incarceration ranging from 5 to 10 years in New Jersey State Prison and entails a presumption of incarceration
- Third Degree Cocaine Distribution: involves cocaine in a quantity less than 1/2 an ounce, punishable by a term of incarceration ranging from 3 to 5 years in New Jersey State Prison, as well as a maximum fine of $75,000, and entails a presumption of non-incarceration.
Besides the amount of cocaine in possession, there are other factors involved in determining the severity of the offense. These include:
Prior Criminal History
Involvement of a Minor
Arrest in a School Zone or on School Property
- Arrest in a public park
If Convicted of Possession of Cocaine, What Happens?
A drug possession conviction means you have a criminal record. That can affect the type of employment you may hold, professional licensing, the ability to live in public housing, and student loan eligibility. In rare instances, the police may confiscate your vehicle. Expect a driver’s license suspension for a certain period after conviction. Offenders must complete drug rehabilitation programs. If the arrest happened within 1,000 feet of a school, hours of community service are added to the sentence.
Those first-time offenders charged with simple possession of cocaine may qualify for PTI and avoid a prison sentence if they have never been in the program before. A first offense means they must never have received a conditional dismissal or discharge in the past. Only those who have never pled guilty to indictable charges previously are eligible for PTI.
For former and current members of the armed forces, the State of New Jersey has established the Statewide Veterans Diversion Program (“VDP”). P.L. 2017, c. 42. The VDP offers eligible veterans diagnosed with mental illnesses and suspected of committing an eligible offense a path away from the criminal justice system.
The VDP’s purpose is to provide veterans and those on active duty suffering from mental illness the help they need. Eligible service members with mental illness suspected or charged with eligible offenses, including drug charges, are routed through existing community and government-based resources.
Facing Drug Charges Call Breslow Law Offices and Speak to a Criminal Defense Lawyer
If you or a loved one are facing drug charges, call Breslow Law Offices today and speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. After a criminal arrest, time is of the essence. Call our Essex County office at 973-239-8000 or our Ocean County office at 609-494-8884 for a free consultation. We will discuss your legal options, getting your charges reduced, and how to proceed going forward.