There are a lot of roads that can lead to one being found in possession of heroin. A person caught with heroin or any other CDS (controlled dangerous substances) may have medical or financial challenges that have resulted in heroin use which could be further complicated by the serious legal consequences of heroin possession.
The potential penalties for possession of heroin are severe and include jail time and significant fines. The good news is that there are ways to protect oneself from the worst penalties and potentially avoid both a conviction and the repercussions of a criminal record.
Penalties and Fines
Possession of heroin or other drugs means facing the following penalties, even for a first offense:
- 3 to 5 years in prison
- A fine of $500 to $15,000, depending on the amount
- Driver’s license suspension between 6 months and 2 years
- Court-ordered drug rehabilitation
In addition to these penalties, a person will also have a permanent criminal record. This will have a massive negative impact on many aspects of a person’s life. A drug conviction can impact one’s job opportunities, immigration status, and custody of one’s child(ren), just to name a few.
Heroin Possession Near Schools or Parks
A person who is caught with heroin or other drugs near a school or park will face additional penalties on top of those listed above. A person can be charged with possession near a school zone if he/she is within 1,000 feet of any kind of daycare, child care, or educational facility.
Alternatively, a person can be charged if he/she is caught with drugs on a school bus, regardless of distance from the school itself. Upon conviction, a person can be sentenced to 100 hours of community service and have their options for parole reduced. He/she could also face additional fines. Possession within 500 feet of a public park can add up to 5 years onto one’s sentence and up to $35,000 in fines.
It’s worth noting that a person need not be aware that they were within such distance of a school or park in order to face the additional penalties.
Heroin Possession Near Public Housing or a Public Building
Under 2C:35-7.1, a person who possesses heroin with intent to distribute near (within 500 feet) public housing or another public building can be charged with a second-degree crime. The penalties for a conviction include up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines.
As with possession near schools or parks, it does not matter if the accused was unaware that he/she was near a public building or public housing.
The law defines a public building as a publicly owned or leased museum or library. Public housing is defined as any type of dwelling that is owned by or leased to a local housing authority.
How to Beat a Heroin Possession Charge
One of the most powerful tools a person can use when defending against heroin possession charges is to ask the court to “suppress” or exclude evidence that may not have been legally found by the police. Suppressing evidence means the prosecutors cannot bring it up in court and use it against the defendant. If, for example, the heroin was found during a traffic stop, it may be possible to argue that the officer had no legal basis to stop the vehicle and/or conduct the search.
To do this requires the help of a talented attorney. The attorney can examine the facts of the case, including how the evidence was obtained by police.
It’s all too common for police to violate people’s Constitutional rights in the effort to obtain evidence of a crime. This can be done through illegal lines of questioning, coercion, or an illegal search.
When this happens, any and all evidence obtained that way can potentially be suppressed. In some cases, this can result in the case being dismissed or thrown out. In others, it severely weakens the prosecution’s arguments for conviction.
Another tactic is to disprove “constructive possession;” in other words to argue that the defendant did not know of or intentionally have the drugs. A skilled defense attorney can use facts and logic to poke holes in the prosecutor’s evidence and prevent him/her from being able to prove constructive possession.
Consequences of a First Offense
A first offense of Possession is just as serious as a repeat offense. A person should not expect leniency from a judge simply because he/she has no criminal record.
A first-time offender must hire a skilled attorney to ensure that every possibility is made to avoid a conviction. With the help of an attorney, a person could have a heroin possession charge reduced to a lesser offense. An attorney may also be able to argue to have the client enrolled in a diversionary program (see below) rather than take the case to trial.
When a conviction occurs, only an attorney is likely to have the skills and experience needed to convince a judge to go easy on a first-time offender.
Consequences for Juveniles
Heroin is a serious drug and no parent wants to hear that his/her child has been caught with the substance. Kids and teens often experiment with dangerous drugs or hang around with kids who do, which can lead to serious issues later on.
Any parent whose child has been accused of possession of heroin must contact an attorney right away. An attorney can analyze the facts of the case to ensure that police have the story straight and did not violate the child’s rights.
If the child has indeed a heroin addiction, getting treatment is better than detention. However, this may require an attorney to convince the judge. If the child does not require treatment, then an attorney could argue for community service and/or probation as an alternative to incarceration.
Enrolling in a NJ Diversionary Program
Those facing first-time heroin possession charges may have other alternatives to fighting the case at trial. Some defendants may be eligible to enroll in a diversionary program, such as a Conditional Discharge or Pre-Trial Intervention.
The goal of a diversionary program is to deter a person from committing a crime again without sending him/her to prison. The exact nature of the program will depend on the charge itself and may involve drug testing, counseling, rehab, and community service.
A diversionary program can be as short as 6 months or as long as 3 years. Those who successfully complete the program will not be convicted—meaning there will be no criminal record.
A person whose crime was motivated by drug addiction (including Possession) can enter drug court as an alternative to prison. Drug court is a supervised probationary program focused on rehabilitation from both addiction and criminal behavior.
In contrast to PTI or Conditional Discharge, entering drug court requires a guilty plea. Still, this is an acceptable alternative for those who suffer from serious addiction and want help breaking both the addiction and the criminal behavior it is inspiring. It can include recurring court appearances, random drug testing, a detox program, counseling, 12-step or self-help groups, and community service.
Avoiding a License Suspension for Heroin Possession
New Jersey is very strict in its application of license suspensions in response to drug possession convictions. While leniency is rare, it can be obtained with the help of an attorney.
An attorney can circumvent a suspension by proving the loss of the license will cause extreme hardship to the defendant and/or his/her family. An example of such hardship would be if the person could not get to work any other way (no viable public transportation routes). A person with serious medical needs or who has a family member (mother, child, or other dependents) who would be unable to attend doctor appointments without a vehicle may also be eligible for a hardship exception.
Even if the above is true, judges are tough on defendants facing drug charges. Having the right attorney with experience in such matters can make the difference in one being able to maintain their license.
What to Do If Accused of Heroin Possession
Having police accuse one of possessing heroin or other drugs is a frightening experience. It can often lead a person to do things that would not help them and could even make things worse. Here are some tips for anyone who is in such a situation.
Don’t run. If police frisk a person and find drugs, do not run! This can result in an additional charge of fleeing police and only makes a person look guilty.
Say nothing. Do not respond to police questions about what occurred. Remember, whether a person is under arrest or not, he/she has the right to remain silent. Leverage that right until one can…
Call an attorney. Get advice from a lawyer as soon as possible. It’s a bad idea to assume that one can beat the charge on his/her own. Even someone who is genuinely innocent can accidentally say or do something that makes it difficult to prove as much.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been arrested for possession of heroin or other drugs in New Jersey, you need expert advice from an experienced attorney. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys who have helped many people in similar situations. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-815-3649 today for a free consultation about your case.