What Are the Penalties for a First-Time Drug Offense?
A person charged with a first-time drug offense in New Jersey will face serious consequences. The exact penalties will depend on the specific charge. For example, a first conviction for drug possession (excluding marijuana) in NJ can mean 3 to 5 years in prison and up to $35,000 in fines. For intent to sell drugs, a first offense can result in a sentence of just a few months to up to 20 years depending on the type of drug and the amount.
Are the Penalties Less Severe for a First-Time Drug Offender?
No. The penalties one faces if convicted remain the same regardless of whether it was a first offense or not. However, NJ prosecutors and judges tend to be more lenient toward a first-time offender, especially one who is remorseful.
Will I Face Jail Time if it was My First Drug Offense?
Potentially. Although New Jersey tends to favor rehabilitative measures instead of harsh punishments when it comes to first-time drug offenders, judges have put offenders behind bars for their first offense. However, the likelihood of being put in prison for a first drug offense in NJ severely decreases if one hires an experienced criminal defense attorney. An attorney will know what to do in order to avoid the criminal process altogether, truly make use of one’s constitutional rights, and gain admission into a diversionary program so as to avoid serving jail time.
What is a Diversionary Program?
A diversionary program allows for a first-time offender who does not have a prior criminal record to avoid imprisonment. New Jersey has two different types of diversionary programs: Pre-Trial Intervention and Conditional Discharge. These programs are designed to rehabilitate and prevent one from engaging in further crimes in the future. Those who meet the criteria for placement into a diversionary program and adhere to all of its requirements while in the program will have the offense removed from their record.
What is Pre-Trial Intervention (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12)?
PTI is a diversionary program that attempts to break the cycle of drug use through rehabilitative means. In order to be admitted to NJ’s Pre-Trial Intervention program, one must:
- Have been charged with an indictable offense
- Be a first-time offender
- Have not gone through PTI before
- Have not been granted a conditional discharge
If accepted, the person will be given care by therapists, drug counseling, and sometimes employment training. While some view PTI as a burden, most understand that it is a far better alternative to serving even a single day behind bars. Moreover, upon successful completion of PTI, the offense is wiped from one’s record. It is important to note that failing to abide by the requirements of the program or failing to complete the program will mean that the offense will not be removed and the offender may face both a fine and prison time.
In other words, if one is given an opportunity to go to PTI, be sure to follow the program’s rules!
Am I Eligible for Conditional Discharge (N.J.S.A. 2C:36A)?
A conditional discharge (sometimes called a Chapter 36A) is a diversionary program for first-time offenders in NJ who are convicted of minor drug offenses. Many times, juvenile offenders take advantage of this option. The program requires the person to be drug-free and offense-free for 6 months to 1 year while being on probation. However, those who do this and successfully adhere to the program’s guidelines will have the offense dismissed. Remember, it is not that easy to obtain a conditional discharge and granting them are within the exclusive discretion of the judge hearing the case. Thus, a person who gets one should count his/her blessings and follow the program to the letter.
Am I Eligible for Drug Court (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14)?
New Jersey offers an alternative to incarceration for first-time offenders who commit crimes as a result of addiction. The purpose of drug court, as it is called, is to help individuals overcome addiction while also resolving the related criminal charges. A person enrolled in drug court will undergo a customized program that may involve counseling, detox, community service, the 12-step program, and other conditions as deemed necessary. Like many diversionary programs, drug court only applies to those who are first-time offenders. However, unlike PTI or conditional discharge, a person admitted into drug court will have to plead guilty to the underlying offense. In addition, addiction must be a central factor in one’s reason for committing the crime.
What is the Veterans Diversion Program?
The Veterans Criminal Diversion Program is an alternative to incarceration for U.S. veterans living in NJ who face prosecution for criminal offenses. The program offers an offending veteran a treatment option under judicial supervision. It is designed to keep veterans out of the traditional criminal justice process and into appropriate rehabilitative alternatives. This can include counseling services for drugs or alcohol, job placement, mentoring, community support, medical services, and potential access to VA benefits. The program typically lasts between 6 months and 2 years.
Should I Hire an Attorney if it is My First Drug Offense?
Yes. Even for a first drug offense in New Jersey, it is crucial to hire a criminal defense attorney who can help protect one’s legal rights to the fullest extent possible while ensuring that this “minor” violation does not turn into a major, long-term problem. Having a drug conviction on one’s record, even a minor one, can impact a person in many ways.
Who Should I Contact for Help with My First Drug Offense in NJ?
If you or a loved one has been arrested on first-time drug charges or any other criminal offense in New Jersey, contact the Rosenblum Law right away. Our skilled criminal defense attorneys have helped many first-time offenders protect their rights and avoid suffering the consequences of a mistake. Email the Rosenblum Law or Call 888-815-3649 today for a free consultation about your case.