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What Makes a Drug Charge a Felony in NJ?

December 10, 2023

How to Determine if You Have been Charged with a Felony or a Misdemeanor Drug Offense in New Jersey

Felony vs. Misdemeanor Drug Charge Attorneys South Jersey

When arrested for drugs, your initial proceedings depend on the amount, type, and purpose of the drugs. For larger drug quantities, certain kinds of drugs, or selling drugs, you are likely to face prosecution in superior court, and your first court appearance will likely be to determine conditions for your release from or detention in jail. For lesser drug offenses (possession of a few doses of prescribed medication), otherwise known as disorderly persons offenses, you may receive a summons with a municipal court appearance date.

How New Jersey Law Categorizes Drug Crimes

The equivalent of a felony in New Jersey is the indictable drug crime, while a misdemeanor is the disorderly persons offense. The maximum penalty for a disorderly persons offense is a six month jail sentence, and the minimum punishment for an indictable crime is 18 months in state prison. Indictable drug crimes range from third- or fourth-degree possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) to second or first-degree drug charges for larger amounts of more addictive drugs, such as heroin, MDMA, cocaine, or crimes like maintaining a CDS production facility.

Common Types of Drug-Related Disorderly Persons Offenses in NJ

Disorderly person offenses are typically possession of lesser amounts of certain drugs or drug paraphernalia. For example, possession of a pipe, roach clip, bong, cocaine spoons, or freebase kits is a disorderly persons offense known as possession of drug paraphernalia. Also, having four doses of prescription drugs without a prescription or failing to turn over drugs to the police is also a misdemeanor drug offense.

Frequent Felonies for Drugs in New Jersey

Felony-type offenses include the illegal possession of cocaine, which is a third-degree crime. A CDS is one listed on the federal and New Jersey drug schedules. Drugs and the chemicals to make them are either scheduled I, II, III, IV, or V, depending on the medicinal benefits of the drugs and their potential for abuse or addiction. Schedule I to IV drugs have the least approved medical use and the highest potential for abuse and addiction. Unlawful possession of Schedule I to IV drugs is a third-degree crime. Possession of a Schedule V drug is generally a fourth-degree crime. Other Scheduled drugs are usually third-degree possession crimes. Other types of indictable crimes include intent to distribute CDS and distribution of drugs within 1,000 feet of school or school-related property.

Spectrum of Severity for Felony Drug Crimes

More severe penalties arise with convictions for leading a drug trafficking operation and conspiracy to sell drugs. Also, possession with the intent to distribute CDS can be a first-degree crime for over five ounces of heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine or a second-degree crime for half to five ounces of the same drugs. However, less than a half ounce of these drugs is a third-degree crime.  Possessing with the intent to sell over 100 milligrams of LSD or over 25 pounds of marijuana is a first-degree crime, but lesser amounts are second or third-degree crimes. 

Over an ounce of other Schedule I or II drugs possessed for sale is a second-degree crime, while less than an ounce is a third-degree crime.  Schedule III and IV drugs for possession and sale are third-degree crimes, while Schedule V drugs for the same purpose are fourth-degree crimes. Moreover, leading a trafficking network of narcotics is a first-degree crime, selling drugs near a school or school property is a third-degree crime, and conspiring to distribute CDS is a fourth-degree crime.

How does the Degree of a CDS Charge Impact the Penalties?

The penalties for drug crimes cover a wide range of potential incarceration and fines. Disorderly persons offenses are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000.00 fine. Indictable crime sentences vary. For example, fourth-degree possession of CDS is punishable by a maximum 18-month prison sentence and either a $10,000.00 fine or $25,000.00 fine, depending on the specific type of offense.

At the other end of the spectrum, typical first-degree sentences include 20 years maximum incarceration with a $250,000.00 fine, but first-degree possession with intent to distribute heroin or cocaine carries 20 years with $500,000.00 in fines. Second-degree criminal penalties include 5 to 10 years and a $150,000.00 fine. Third-degree crimes carry 3 to 5-year prison terms and a potential $15,000.00 fine. However, a conviction for possession with intent to distribute less than an ounce of Schedule I or II drugs includes up to a $75,000.00 fine.

Alternatives to Avoid a Conviction for Felony or Misdemeanor Drug Charges

Fortunately, alternatives to maximum penalties exist under certain circumstances. In municipal court, diversionary programs exist to rehabilitate the first-time offender. Conditional Discharge is an alternative to incarceration for misdemeanor drug charges. The program consists of a one-year probation with specific conditions, like drug testing, counseling, and other requirements, after which the state dismisses the charges.  Drug Court is a unique program for felony drug offenses, which offers those with substance abuse problems to attend a program that may last up to five years to rehabilitate from drug addiction.

In superior court, Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) allows eligible first-time, non-violent drug offenders to attend a supervised probation program in order to maintain a clear criminal record. The program varies but may include community service, drug testing, and other conditions. Like conditional discharge, the successful completion of the program results in a dismissal of the charges. Although the prosecutor has the discretion to allow offenders charged with second degree crimes into PTI, a persuasive criminal defense attorney can argue for an applicant’s acceptance even when the charges include second degree offenses.

Speak to a Talented South Jersey Drug Charge Attorney about Your Best Options

When you face drug charges, the best chance of a more favorable disposition of your case is with the help of a skillful criminal defense attorney. At Proetta, Oliver, & Fay, our trusted lawyers can ensure your application into a diversionary program is complete and persuasive. We can also speak to the prosecutor early in your case to convince them to dismiss it if possible, or file a motion to suppress evidence obtained through improper police procedures. Even before indictment, our attorneys can talk to the prosecuting attorney and perhaps reach a favorable plea bargain for a better sentence or reduced charges. Most importantly, we are dedicated and prepared to defend you at a trial, raising any number of effective defenses to get a not-guilty verdict. If you have been arrested and charged with a drug offense in South Jersey, contact our law firm to speak with a local criminal defense attorney regarding your case. We are here to provide you with a free consultation 24/7 by contacting us online or calling 609-850-8284.

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New Jersey 08053
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Middletown Township,
New Jersey 07748
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