The distribution of illegal drugs in New Jersey is a serious offense. How you are treated in court will depend on whether this is your first offense, the types of drugs you were allegedly dealing, the quantity of drugs, the location of the alleged sale, and your “intent.”
Types of Drug Distribution Charges
There are a number of types of distribution, intent to distribute and manufacturing cases that are handled by criminal defense attorneys including:
- Drugs found in motor vehicles.
- Drug trafficking and cultivation.
- Maintaining a facility that manufactures drugs (Meth labs).
Illegal drug distribution and manufacturing charges may be enhanced when they occur in school areas, public housing or along with other crimes.
Generally, New Jersey law provides that a drug offender loses his or her driver’s license for at least 6 months upon conviction of many drug laws.
Whether an offender is charged with a first, second or third degree offense will depend upon the quantity involved and if any enhancements are present. As such, there are significant differences in the jail time imposed among the classifications.
Some of the more common drugs distributed carry the following penalties.
Marijuana and Hashish
It is a first degree offense if the amount is 25 pounds or more, or at least 50 plants, or 5 or more pounds of Hashish. The sentence is 10 to 20 years imprisonment and a fine up to $300,000.00 may be imposed.
It is a second degree offense if the amount is at least 5 and less than 25 pounds of marijuana or 10 and 49 plants, or at least 1 pound and less than 5 pounds of Hashish. It carries a 5 to 10 year sentence.
A third degree offense includes at least 1 ounce and less than 5 pounds of marijuana, or between 5 grams and less than 1 pound of Hashish. The penalty is up to 5 years in prison and a fine up to $25,000.00.
A fourth degree offense includes less than 1 ounce or less of marijuana or less than 5 grams of Hashish. It carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison.
Methamphetamine or P2P
5 ounces or more of methamphetamine or P2P is considered a first degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $300,000.00.
Between ½ ounce and less than 5 ounces, it is a second degree
offense. You can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Less than ½ ounce is considered a third degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and a fine up to $75,000.00.
Cocaine, Heroin or Ecstasy
5 ounces or more is a first degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.00. You must serve between 1/3 and ½ of the prison sentence before you are eligible for parole.
Between ½ ounce and under 5 ounce is a second degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Less than ½ ounce is a third degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $75,000.00.
LSD and PCP
100 milligrams or more of LSD or 10 or more grams of PCP is a first degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.00. You must serve between 1/3 and ½ of the prison sentence before you are eligible for parole.
Anything under these amounts is a second degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Methadone, DMT, Opium, Mescaline, Mushrooms, Amphetamines
1 ounce or more is a second degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Less than 1 ounce is a third degree offense. You can be sentenced to up to 5 years in prison and a fine up to $75,000.00.
A defendant is considered a leader of a drug trafficking ring or network if he or she enters into a conspiracy with two or more persons to manufacture, distribute or transport into New Jersey any Schedule I or II or controlled substance.
This is an extremely serious offense and is a first degree crime, that carries a life sentence with a minimum of 25 years without parole. The court can also impose a fine of up to $750,000, or five times the street value of the controlled substance involved, whatever is greater.
The state need not prove that any intended profit was actually realized.
Your sentence for drug distribution can be enhanced or upgraded if certain circumstances are present at the time the offense was committed.
Distributing or intending to distribute any controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a school or school property can subject the offender to a mandatory prison sentence. For instance, a conviction for distribution of less than 1 ounce of marijuana carries at least 1 year of parole ineligibility. In all other cases, the person shall serve at least 3 years in prison before being eligible for parole.
However, the sentencing court has discretion to waive or reduce the minimum mandatory prison terms in school zone cases depending on the offender’s past record, the location of the sale or intended sale, whether school was in session, or if children were present at the time of the offense.
Being charged with gun possession while distributing drugs can result in a prison sentence of 10 years.
Public Housing, Public Library or Public park
If you are within 500 feet of public housing, a public library or a public park, and you were selling less than 1 ounce of marijuana, your charges will be upgraded to a third degree crime. For distributing or intending to distribute any other drug, the sentence is enhanced to a second degree offense, which carries up to 10 years in prison.
Death from Drugs Sold
If the state can prove the drugs you sold caused a person to die, you can be charged with the crime of strict liability for drug induced deaths, a first degree crime. You can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison subject to the No Early Release Act, which means you must serve 85% of the sentence before you are eligible for parole. For this crime, it is no defense that the decedent contributed to his own death by his purposeful, knowing, reckless or negligent injection, inhalation or ingestion of the substance, or by his consenting to the administration of the substance by another.
Defenses to Drug Cases
A criminal defense lawyer can offer a number of defenses to your charges. Some of these include the following;
Search and Seizure Violation
Law enforcement must follow the search and seizure rules when searching you or your property if they suspect you are in possession of illegal drugs. If police come to your house, they may not enter without your permission or without a search warrant that is validly attested to and which describes the particular areas to be searched and the items to be found.
Proof the Drugs Belonged to You
The state must prove that any drug found actually belonged to you. For instance, if your roommate had equal access to a drawer or motor vehicle, a prosecutor may not be able to prove that any drugs found were yours.
Law officers must advise you of your rights regarding your statements and having an attorney represent you. If an officer questions you and you refuse to answer and request an attorney, he or she must cease questioning you.
Police cannot search you or your vehicle without probable cause that leads them to believe that a crime has been committed.
If you are arrested, do not volunteer any information to the police or anyone else. For instance, do not talk to anyone else in a holding cell or place of detention, or on a telephone. Many times, police will plant their officers in cells to extract confessions out of defendants, or inmates will advise officers that you confessed in an effort to receive a better plea deal for themselves.
Immediately consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can help arrange your bail. Do not delay as your case could be jeopardized and the opportunity for a reasonable defense or a satisfactory plea bargain could be jeopardized.
A drug distribution conviction carries the very real possibility of a long term prison sentence. Convictions can remain on your public record for life and adversely affect your ability to find employment, get credit or a loan, and find a place to live. You will also not be allowed to possess firearms.
Consulting with and retaining a qualified criminal defense lawyer can assure you that your rights will be protected.