How Do I Know the Degree of My Drug Charges?
Every criminal charge in New Jersey is classified by a “degree.” A degree is generally a level of seriousness for the crime. As the degrees decrease, the crime is considered more severe under the law and has harsher penalties if you are convicted. In the realm of drug charges, the “degree” is usually directly related to how much of a specific substance you have, the type of substance, its classification in the New Jersey Schedule of Controlled Dangerous Substances (CDS), and whether or not the state believes you had intent to distribute the drug or if it was solely for personal use. Some drugs are considered worse than others, so getting to a “first-degree” charge is more likely, even if you have a lesser amount when compared to other substances.
Third Degree Drug Crimes in New Jersey
Most drug possession charges in New Jersey will fall under the category of third degree crimes. Possession of any controlled substance in New Jersey is a third-degree charge, except marijuana or hashish, which have their own grading guidelines. Third degree charges can include both “street drugs,” like heroin or cocaine, and prescription drugs like Xanax and Valium.
The consequences of third degree drug crimes are considerable and they apply regardless of whether the drug you have is always illegal or if it is just illegal without a valid prescription. For example, if you have any illicit drug, with the exception of marijuana, you can face three to five years in prison and may end up being fined up to $35,000. The same penalties apply to unauthorized prescription drugs.
Possession of Marijuana
Although New Jersey lawmakers have been moving toward legalization of recreational marijuana, it is still considered an illegal substance under NJ Drug Laws. As such, you can be prosecuted for, and convicted of, a drug crime for having any amount of marijuana in your possession. If you have 50 grams or less of marijuana, then you will be charged with a disorderly persons offense. Such a charge comes with penalties of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If you have over 50 grams, then it is considered a fourth degree crime. Penalties include up to 18 months in prison and a fine of no more than $15,000.
Drug paraphernalia, which includes anything that is used to put a controlled substance into the body, is a disorderly person offense. Some of the most common examples are pipes and needles, but this definition is broad and can sometimes include things like electronic cigarettes/vape pens, lighters, and even spoons.
2nd & 1st Degree Drug Charges
A drug charge will generally only be considered a second or first offense if the state believes they can prove that you had an intent to distribute the drug. However, having large amounts of a controlled substance can lead a court to infer that you were going to sell or otherwise distribute a drug, even if you really had no intention of doing that. For example, if you have between five and 25 pounds of marijuana on hand, you may be charged with a second degree crime. If the amount is over 25 pounds, then it is considered a first degree offense. You can also be charged with a felony for intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, prescription pills, and other forms of CDS.
Second degree drug crimes include penalties of prison for between five and ten years. First degree crimes, which are the most serious, include prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years. Notably, a drug distribution charge can be accompanied by other charges with their own penalties if you are in a school zone or within 500 feet of a public park or other public property at the time of your arrest.
Charged with a Drug Offense in Morris County?
Sometimes you simply have to wait to hear the charge before you know what kind of crime you are being accused of committing. The questions from there are endless and likely overwhelming. Get an experienced drug defense team to help you with this process—you do not have to deal with these charges alone. In many cases, the criminal defense attorneys at our firm can use the facts of your situation to negotiate the potential charges down to decrease the overall threat of prison time and the potential for fines. We have also helped countless clients in local courts in Morris County and throughout New Jersey to avoid a criminal record by getting their drug charges dismissed or securing their admission into a diversionary program like Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) or conditional discharge. If you’re facing drug charges, call our Morristown drug defense lawyers today at (908) 336-5008 more information. Consultations are provided 24/7 free of charge.