Opioid addiction has become a serious challenge in New Jersey and most other parts of the United States. Opioids are a class of drugs that act as pain relievers. Heroin is a class of opioids, although most opioids are prescription drugs. Penalties for possession and illegal sale of prescription opioids are different from those for heroin. For purposes of this page, the term “opioid” will refer to Schedule II prescription drugs. Information relating specifically to heroin can be found here.
What Are the Penalties for Possession of Opioids in New Jersey?
Prison sentence: Possession of 4 or fewer opioid pills/doses without a prescription is a fourth-degree crime (felony) in NJ and carries a sentence of up to 18 months in prison. Possession of between 5 and 99 pills/doses is a third-degree crime with a sentence of up to 5 years in prison. Possession of 100 or more pills/doses is a second-degree crime and can lead to up to 10 years in prison.
Fine: A person convicted of possession of opioids can be required to pay a hefty fine: up to $10,000 for 4 or fewer pills/doses; up to $200,000 for 5 to 99 pills/doses; and up to $300,000 for 100 or more pills/doses.
|# Opioid Pills/Doses||Crime||Prison Sentence||Fine|
|4 or fewer||Fourth Degree||18 months||$10,000|
|Between 5 and 99||Third Degree||5 years||$200,000|
|100 or more||Second Degree||10 years||$300,000|
Criminal record: Any person convicted of opioid possession in New Jersey will be guilty of a crime and have a permanent criminal record. This can severely limit one’s ability to get a job, find housing, or attend school.
What Are the Penalties for Illegal Sale/Distribution of Opioids in New Jersey?
The penalties for a person selling or distributing opioids without authorization are the same as those for possession:
- Sale/distribution of 4 or fewer doses (such as pills) without a valid prescription
- Fourth Degree Crime
- Up to 18 months in jail.
- Fine of up to $10,000.
- Sale/distribution of between 5 and 99 doses
- Third Degree Crime
- Up to 5 years in jail
- Fine of up to $200,000
- Sale/distribution of 100 or more doses
- Second Degree Crime
- Up to 10 years in jail
- Fine of up to $300,000
What Prescription Drugs Are Opioids?
Prescription opioids, like all prescription drugs, are listed as Schedule II drugs by the DEA. Opioids have a legal medical use, but can be abused and form addictions. Some of the most common prescription opioids include:
- Hydrocodone drugs including Vicodin
- Oxycodone drugs including:
Other Possible Charges Relating to Opioid Use in NJ
In addition to possession and sale/distribution, there are other offenses a person could be charged with relating to opioids in New Jersey. This includes:
Medication in the Wrong Container. Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:35-24, it is a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey to carry prescription medication in anything other than the original container. There is an exception for those who have no more than a 10-day supply of the medication and who are able to provide police with the name and address of the pharmacist or doctor that prescribed the medication. Violating this statute can lead to up to 6 months in jail, a permanent criminal record, and a fine of up to $1,000. This would be in addition to any other penalties associated with other possible charges.
Obtaining a Prescription by Forgery or other Fraud. Statute N.J.S.A. 2C:35-13 describes a number of ways a person could be charged for illegally obtaining or attempting to obtain a prescription. This includes forging a prescription (on a prescription pad or via computer), altering the drug quantity on a prescription, impersonating medical staff to call in prescriptions, and prescribing drugs for an illegitimate medical reason. Violating this statute constitutes a third-degree crime, which can result in up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. This is in addition to having a permanent criminal record and penalties resulting from other related charges.
Defenses to Possession or Sale of Opioids in NJ
A person arrested and charged with possession with or without intent to sell/distribute opioids has options for avoiding a conviction. One possible defense is to show in court that the search and seizure of the prescription drugs were not legal in the first place. This may be because NJ police lacked a warrant and any relevant “exigent circumstances” that would allow them to conduct a search without one. If the discovery of the allegedly illegal prescription took place during a traffic stop, the defendant may not have been informed of his/her right to refuse consent to a search, depending on the circumstances. Likewise, it is possible that the officer had no probable cause to search the driver and/or vehicle in the first place.
Another common strategy is to disprove possession. For example, State v. Shipp establishes that just because there are multiple individuals in a home or vehicle in which illegal opioids were discovered does not mean that each had “intentional control and dominion” over the substance. If the prosecution does not have strong evidence linking the defendant to the substance, or if that evidence was illegally obtained, then it may be possible to prevent prosecutors from proving possession.
NJ Diversionary Programs and Opioids
If the above strategies do not apply or the prosecution has strong evidence against the accused, there are still options for avoiding a conviction. If a person is eligible for one of the state’s diversionary programs, these may be the best path to avoiding a conviction and/or incarceration. Diversionary programs are only available to those who do not have a prior conviction.
Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). A first-time offender can apply to enter a pre-trial intervention for charges relating to illegal possession of opioids in NJ. A PTI program avoids the cost and time of a trial. Instead, the person is released on probation and may be required to attend counseling, perform community service, undergo random drug testing, and more. A person who successfully completes a PTI will have the charges dismissed.
Conditional Discharge. A conditional discharge program is similar to a PTI but focuses on drug-related offenses. The focus of a conditional discharge is on rehabilitating the offender. In addition to a period of probation, the defendant may be required to undergo random drug testing, attend addiction counseling, or participate in other programs as ordered by the judge. It’s likely the defendant’s license will also be suspended. If completed successfully, the conditional discharge ends with all charges being dismissed.
Drug court. When a person’s crimes are motivated by addiction, drug court is an available option. Like a PTI or conditional discharge, those who enter drug court will most likely avoid any kind of prison or jail sentence. However, drug court requires a guilty plea and the person will have a criminal record. The good news is that, if the program is completed, the criminal record can be expunged. Those who enter drug court may be required to undergo detox, random drug testing, as well as attend regular meetings with a probation officer. Individuals are often asked to attend a 12-step program, relapse prevention and perform community service. The exact program will be catered to the person’s specific situation.
Veterans Criminal Diversion Program. U.S. military veterans living in NJ who face prosecution for criminal offenses can be referred to this program. It is designed to keep veterans out of the traditional criminal justice process and into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives. Like other diversionary programs, the details will be specific to the offense, history, and needs of the individual. That could include drug or alcohol counseling, peer mentoring, community support, certain kinds of medical treatment, and more.
Why Hire an Attorney?
Any kind of drug offense in New Jersey is a serious matter. While NJ’s public defenders are hardworking and capable attorneys, they are often overworked and cannot dedicate the time and resources to a case that a person may need to avoid a conviction. By hiring a private attorney to represent him/her, a person charged with opioid possession or any other drug offense in NJ can rest assured that the case is getting the attention it deserves. An attorney can comb through the facts of the case to find any and every opportunity to suppress illegally obtained evidence and protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial. The attorney can advise the defendant on possibilities such as diversionary programs when such situations apply.
Can A Conviction for Opioid Possession Be Expunged in New Jersey
Opioid possession with or without intent to distribute in New Jersey can be expunged from one’s criminal record if the person otherwise meets eligibility. Qualification includes having a criminal record with no more than 4 disorderly persons offenses or 1 indictable offense (felony) and 3 disorderly persons offenses. Even if the person avoids a conviction via a diversionary program or not guilty verdict, the record of the arrest and enrollment in the program can and should be expunged.
Who Should I Contact?
If you or a loved one has been charged with possession of opioids or any other criminal offense in New Jersey, contact an attorney for help. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are skilled criminal defense attorneys with experience helping people protect their rights and avoid the most serious consequences. Email Rosenblum Law or call 888-979-7551 today for a free consultation about your case.