The Serious Consequences for Breaking NJ Opioid Possession and Distribution Laws
October 22, 2023
Opioid-related crimes have become an urgent issue in New Jersey and nationwide, with the rise of opioid use and overdoses reaching unthinkable levels. The opioid crisis is a complex problem affecting public health and the criminal justice system. The legal consequences of opioid-related criminal charges in New Jersey vary according to the crimes and their effect on public health and specific victims, whether possession, possession with intent to distribute or selling opioids, possession of drug paraphernalia, or other related charges. Those prosecuted will need an attorney to navigate complex, consequential legal issues relative to these cases.
Getting help from the skilled criminal defense team at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay is essential when facing opioid-related charges in New Jersey. We can assess the case’s circumstances, advise on potential defenses, negotiate with prosecutors, and guide you in applying to diversionary programs when applicable. Our opioid possession and distribution lawyers can also ensure that law enforcement follows the law and that we protect your rights as the accused for the duration of the criminal justice process. Without an attorney familiar with the specific rules and opioid-related cases, you may not know your options, which ones to pursue, and when in a criminal case. A mistake can lead to unnecessary or prolonged imprisonment and high fines. Don’t risk it and contact us for a free consultation at 609-850-8284 to discuss your opioid charges in Burlington County, Camden County, and throughout South Jersey.
What is Considered an Opioid?
Opioids are narcotics that include natural and synthetic substances imitating the properties of opium, a highly addictive synthetic extracted from the poppy plant. Prescription drugs, such as fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone (Vicodin), codeine, and morphine are opioids. Illicit drugs, such as street fentanyl and carfentanil (animal tranquilizers), are also narcotics in the opioid family. When used for medical purposes, opioids effectively bind brain receptors to the spinal cord, providing pain relief essential to healing. However, opioids also produce a euphoria for drug users that can cause addiction and legal consequences.
What is the Law Against Illegal Possession of Opioids in NJ?
Possession of opioids without a valid prescription is illegal in New Jersey. The New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act (N.J.S.A. 24:21-1, et seq.) classifies opioids as controlled dangerous substances (CDS), which is the legal framework for New Jersey laws that punish their possession, distribution, and manufacturing. Penalties for possession of CDS vary depending on the type and quantity of opioids. Like the federal government, New Jersey schedules drugs based on their potential for abuse. Opioids are typically Schedule II drugs, meaning they have a high potential for abuse.
Penalties for possession include fines, probation, mandatory drug education programs, and potential incarceration, with the severity increasing as the drug quantities increase. An accused’s prior criminal conviction history also raises the possible prison time, fines, and other penalties. But even for someone with no criminal record, drug crimes are serious offenses in New Jersey with severe legal consequences.
Penalties for possession of an opioid without a prescription are determined in the same as those for distribution, based on quantity. It is a disorderly persons offense to possess four or fewer doses of an opioid. A disorderly persons offense is punishable by a maximum six-month jail sentence and a $1,000.00 fine. Possessing opioids in an amount of five or more doses is a fourth degree crime. A fourth degree conviction leads to up to 18 months in prison with a $10,000.00 fine.
How Bad is a Charge for Illegally Selling or Possessing Opioids with Intent to Distribute in New Jersey?
When the state proves the defendant intended to distribute the drugs, or the distribution or sale actually occurs, this is governed by the same law in New Jersey. A violation of N.J.S. § 2C: 35-10.5, distribution or possession of a CDS with intent to distribute can lead to harsh penalties, such as lengthy prison sentences, substantial fines, and parole ineligibility. The aim is to deter further contributions to the opioid crisis. The penalties range from a second to fourth-degree offense, based on the quantity of the substance.
Possession of four or fewer doses is a fourth degree crime when the state establishes an intent to distribute for profit. Distribution of five to up to 99 doses is a third degree crime, punishable by a maximum five-year prison term and $200,000.00 in fines. Sale of 100 or more doses of opioids is a second degree crime carrying a five-to-ten-year prison sentence and up to $300,000.00 in fines.
First-Time Offenders Charged with Opioid Offenses in NJ
Whether possession or possession with intent to distribute an opioid is the charge, the consequences may mean a significant loss of liberty. Fortunately, some individuals facing opioid-related charges may be eligible for diversionary programs, such as Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI), Conditional Discharge, Veterans Criminal Diversion Program, or Drug Court.
These programs offer an alternative to traditional criminal sentencing, emphasizing rehabilitation and treatment over punishment. PTI and Conditional Discharge are available to first-time offenders. At the same time, the Veterans Criminal Diversion Program and Drug Court are available to veterans or offenders with mental health or substance abuse problems. PTI is a superior court diversionary option for indictable criminal offenses, whereas Conditional Discharge is available in the municipal court for disorderly persons offenses.
How to Defend an Opioid Possession or Sale Case
individuals ineligible for diversionary programs may still challenge the state’s charges against them. Several defenses may apply to opioid-related crimes, such as illegal search and seizure, lack of intent to distribute, unknowingly possessing CDS, entrapment, and flawed chemical drug tests used to support the state’s case. The success of these defenses depends on the specific circumstances of each case. A sole possession charge may be easier to defend against than multiple charges for possession, distribution, and related charges.
The more charges the prosecution files against a defendant, the more challenging it is for the defense. Opioid offense cases may include additional criminal charges, such as conspiracy, possession of drug paraphernalia, or endangering the welfare of a child if children are involved or present in the drug activity. Also, obtaining opioids by fraud or forgery, a third degree crime, and carrying prescription drugs outside their prescription bottle is a disorderly persons offense. The combination of charges can lead to even more prison time and fines. Camden County Opioid Possession and Distribution Cases
Proetta, Oliver, & Fay is Ready to Help with Your Opioid Possession or Distribution Case in South Jersey
Given the harsh legal consequences of criminal charges involving opioids in New Jersey, choosing an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands the laws, potential penalties, diversionary options, and defenses is crucial to a successful defense. Most importantly, our opioid defense lawyers at Proetta, Oliver, & Fay can help you navigate the legal complexities of an opioid-related criminal case to achieve the most favorable resolution. Contact us at 609-850-8284 to talk to a dedicated criminal defense lawyer free of charge about your opioid case or start a chat for assistance.