The Intersection of Drug Possession and DUI in New Jersey
July 30, 2023
Many Times, a Defendant will be Arrested for Possessing Drugs and Driving under the Influence after a Single Motor Vehicle Stop in NJ.
On any Saturday night, you might find a car on the side of the road with a flashing light from a police car behind. DUIs on Saturday night are notorious, but the DUI stop that turns into a drug possession bust may not be as familiar. When a police officer detains a driver for erratic driving, smells alcohol on their breath, and orders field sobriety testing, they may arrest the driver who fails the test. It’s when the arrest and search occur that drugs may appear. DUI and drug possession charges can lead to lengthy prison sentences, so consider contacting a DUI and drug defense attorney at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay in Burlington County, NJ when you need a solid legal defense against serious charges. To speak with a lawyer free of charge, simply contact our Evesham office at 609-850-8284.
How Police Find Drugs During DUI Stops in NJ
After a DUI stop, police may find drugs on a driver after a search upon arrest, in plain view in the car, after a search of the vehicle, or in the person’s blood after chemical testing. Once law enforcement detects alcohol on the driver’s breath, they typically conduct field sobriety tests, then arrest the driver and administer a breathalyzer test to confirm the blood alcohol content (BAC) of the driver. A refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test is grounds for another charge for refusing to take the test.
Observing the driver throughout the process may reveal other traits police can detect that indicate the driver may be under the influence of drugs. So, the officer may ask the driver to take a blood or urine test. However, they cannot compel bodily fluid examinations like they can a breathalyzer test. And once the police suspect an individual is driving under the influence of narcotics, they may arrest a suspect and search their vehicle for drugs. They may find street drugs, like cocaine, heroin, or LSD, but they may also find prescription drugs.
Arrested for Drug Possession while Stopped for Driving under the Influence
Driving impaired by illegal or legal drugs carry the same penalties. So, when police find prescription drugs in a vehicle or on a person, they can ask the driver for their prescription. Without a prescription, the driver may face prescription drug possession charges. Regardless of the drug, a prosecutor can get a conviction against a driver for driving impaired when they can prove the legal or illegal substance was in the driver’s system when they drove a vehicle.
When law enforcement finds a Schedule I drug like heroin on their person, in their car, or in their bloodstream, the driver may face multiple charges. For instance, driving under the influence of heroin violates N.J.S.A. 39:4-50, the law that punishes driving under the influence of alcohol, a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), or prescription drugs. In other words, a DUI is considered driving while impaired by alcohol, narcotics, habit-producing drugs, or hallucinogenic drugs.
Evidence Involved in Drug Possession and DUI Cases in NJ
The state must establish that the driver drove impaired to convict someone of a drug DUI. Impairment may be apparent to an officer by the driver’s erratic driving, swerving into adjacent lanes, slow driving, or delayed reaction time. Driving under the influence of heroin may cause erratic driving. Heroin is an opioid that can impair a driver’s reflexes and judgment. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, driving under the influence of an opioid like heroin doubles the chances of a dwi-related car crash.
However, proving that a drowsy driver is under the influence of heroin or is merely sleep-deprived may depend on the expertise of the arresting officer and a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). A DRE has specialized training in recognizing drug impairment in drivers, and police and prosecutors rely on their evaluations to make arrests and prosecute drugged drivers. Since DREs are typically the primary evidence to prove the driving while impaired element of the offense (unless the driver voluntarily submitted to a blood or urine test), experienced defense attorneys cross-examine them critically.
DUI Heroin and Heroin Possession Example
A first-time DUI for heroin conviction includes a $300.00 to $500.00 fine plus various fees and fines amounting to over $500.00. Additional costs include a three-year insurance surcharge of $1,000.00 per year. The driver must spend 12 to 48 hours in an Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC) and lose their driver’s license for seven months to a year. A judge may also sentence them to up to 30 days in jail.
A subsequent offense carries higher fines, a longer license suspension, 30 days of community service, 48 hours to 90 days in jail, and a license suspension for two years. A third offense occurring within ten years of the prior violation leads to the same penalties, but the license suspension increases to ten years, and the jail sentence increases to minimally six months, three months of which may be served in an approved inpatient rehabilitation facility.
Aside from a DUI, an individual faces a possible heroin possession charge when the police search and find heroin. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10, it is illegal to possess heroin. An accused faces three to five years in prison and a potential $35,000.00 fine for possessing less than a half ounce of heroin. And when the DUI arrestee has heroin paraphernalia, such as a syringe, they face additional charges and penalties. For example, having drug-related items, such as bongs, plastic baggies, marijuana pipes, scales, plastic baggies, or prescription pads, is a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2. Drug paraphernalia possession is a disorderly persons offense punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000.00 fine, and a potential two-year license suspension.
Possessing Drugs while Driving Impaired by CDS on New Jersey Roadways
Moreover, a DUI for other drugs may lead to the same charges and penalties. However, possession charges may differ for marijuana in New Jersey since the state allows residents to possess personal use amounts, though not to drive under the influence of any drugs, prescription, legal, or illegal. Thus, a marijuana possession charge for over six ounces of cannabis is a fourth-degree crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000.00 fine.
What Court will Handle my Case?
DUIs are traffic violations normally handled in municipal court. A disorderly persons offense of possessing drug paraphernalia and a DUI will have a municipal court judge render a guilty or not guilty verdict. However, a DUI with an indictable crime charge, such as drug possession, goes to the superior court before a jury for a decision.
Can You Expunge a Drug Possession/DUI Case from Your Record?
Any criminal conviction leads to a record of offenses that may hamper an individual’s chances of getting certain job, housing, or educational opportunities, even after they have served their time and paid their dues to society. For this reason, people who have been convicted of various offenses expunge their records. N.J.S.A. 2C:52-1 allows the expungement of criminal records, such as arrest, detention, trial, or sentencing. So, an employer, landlord, or university does not have to know about drug possession or paraphernalia possession arrests or convictions.
An expungement effectively removes the conviction from the records so that background checks do not reveal them. Unfortunately, DUI convictions stay on your driving record and cannot be expunged. The law does not allow expungement of DUI cases. As to drug possession convictions, it depends on the person’s criminal history. An individual may expunge one indictable criminal conviction, three or fewer disorderly persons, or multiple convictions under a single conviction judgment or arising out of the same or closely related circumstances.
Expunging records takes some know-how on the proper documents and attachments to file. A skilled criminal and expungement lawyer at our firm can help with that, but more importantly, our DUI and drug defense attorneys can handle a case from the outset, potentially getting a case dismissed or obtaining a not-guilty verdict in municipal or superior court.
Let our South Jersey Defense Firm Help
Our experienced defense lawyers are highly familiar with both Superior and Municipal Court venues in Burlington County, New Jersey, as we handle DUI charges, drug possession and distribution cases, and many others in these courts on a regular basis. Whether you have been arrested and charged with possessing a controlled dangerous substance and driving under the influence of drugs in Delran, Evesham, Pemberton, Lumberton, Cinnaminson, Willingboro, Riverside, Mount Laurel, or another town in the Burlington County and Southern NJ area, be proactive about a strategic defense and get in touch with us today. A talented DUI and criminal defense attorney at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay is available to discuss your case immediately. Call 609-850-8284 for help with your defense when you face DUI and drug-related charges.