Selling Drugs on or Near School Grounds in New Jersey – N.J.S.A 2C:35-7
drug free school zone sign

Most know that selling drugs is a serious crime in New Jersey. However, not everyone realizes that Selling Drugs within 1,000 feet of a school could result in more severe penalties and a worse stigma than a regular drug crime conviction. Consequently, it is vital for all individuals to read the following information and to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney if you are ever charged with Selling Drugs on or near school grounds.

questionWhat does it mean to Sell Drugs in a School Zone?

According to the New Jersey drug-free school zone law (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7), a person is guilty of Selling Drugs in a School Zone if he/she distributes, dispenses, or possesses with intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) while:

  • on school property or property that is used for school purposes,
  • within 1,000 feet of such school property or a school bus, or
  • on any school bus.

Remember, the prosecution bears the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt. In order to be convicted of selling drugs on or near a school zone, a prosecutor will need to prove several things and have substantial evidentiary support. 

First and foremost, the prosecutor must be able to prove that the defendant actually distributed, dispensed or possessed with the intent to distribute a controlled and dangerous substance. It is crucial to understand that simply proving possession is not enough to get convicted. 

Second, the prosecutor will have to prove that the actions in question occurred on school property, within 1,000 feet of school property, or on a school bus—in other words, it must have occurred in a “drug-free zone.”

If the area is not regularly or actually used for school purposes, that provides a solid defense against a conviction. After all, the statutory language clearly states that the school property must be “used for school purposes.” 

Additionally, the prosecutor usually is required to present a map establishing that the location where the supposed sale took place is, in fact, school property or a school zone. 

Keep in mind that claiming ignorance as to how close to a school one was is not a defense. Selling drugs on or near school property is a “strict liability offense.” This means a person can be convicted whether he/she knew where he/she was or not; simply being in the school zone is enough.

finesPenalties and Fines

A conviction for Selling Drugs in a School Zone is considered separate and distinct from all other drug-related offenses and will not merge with them. This means a person will likely face two charges: one for distribution and one for Distribution in a School Zone. As such, a person could face higher fines, more time behind bars, and parole ineligibility. In most cases, being convicted of violating N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 is a third-degree crime.

A conviction for Selling Drugs in a School Zone carries a potential punishment of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. This is in addition to penalties for other charges. 

A school zone offense carries with it a minimum period of parole ineligibility that ranges from one-half to one-third of the sentence or three years, whichever is greater. This mandatory minimum sentence may be waived after considering several factors, including prior criminal history and whether children were actually present.

how to beatHow To Beat A Charge of Selling Drugs in A School Zone

A person can beat a charge of Selling Drugs in a School Zone if his/her attorney can provide evidence showing: 

  • the actions in question took place entirely within a private residence
  • no person 17 years of age or younger was present at any time 
  • the actions did not involve distributing, dispensing or possessing with the intent to distribute or dispense any controlled dangerous substance or a controlled substance analog

If all but the last point can be proven, then the person may be charged with selling drugs, but not the additional charge of Selling Drugs in a School Zone.

Keep in mind that police are bound by the law as well. Those who do not follow the proper procedures when it comes to questioning, arresting, and gathering evidence can jeopardize their cases. A defendant whose rights were violated by police during the investigation could potentially have evidence against him/her thrown out or see the charges dropped altogether.  

Ultimately, the exact defense strategy will depend on the circumstances of the case. A person who is charged with this crime must have an excellent criminal defense attorney who can evaluate the facts and develop a strong defense that will minimize exposure to jail and other penalties. 

In many cases, the wisest strategy may be to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charge(s) to a lesser offense with fewer penalties and little or no jail time. It may also be possible to avoid conviction by enrolling in a diversionary program (see below). 

case lawCase Law Analysis

The defendant in State v. Gregory, 220 N.J. 413 admitted that he knowingly possessed heroin contained in an individual, stamp-sized package with specific markings while within 1,000 feet of school property. The trial court accepted his guilty plea under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. On appeal, the defendant did not admit his intent to distribute the heroin, thus his guilty plea was not sufficient to sustain the conviction. The appellate court agreed with the defendant and clarified that the elements of Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance within 1,000 Feet of School Property were: first, possession of a controlled dangerous substance; second, to intend to distribute the substance; third, presence within 1,000 feet of school property. The defendant only admitted to possessing heroin and not to the intention of distributing it. Thus, the element of “intent to distribute” was absent and the defendant’s guilty plea was vacated.
In State v. Lopez, 359 N.J.Supper. 222, two defendants were found jointly possessing and smoking marijuana in an apartment within 1,000 feet of school property. They were both charged under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. The defendants argued that the sharing of marijuana with each other and being charged with joint possession was not sufficient to constitute “Possession with Intent to Distribute”. The court agreed with the defendants that the element of “intent to distribute” could not be established on the basis of sharing drugs among joint possessors. Since each defendant already constructively possessed the drugs, they could not technically distribute it to each other.
The defendant in State v. Ivory, 124 N.J. 582 was found with cocaine and marijuana in his jacket pocket as he rode his bicycle within 1,000 feet of school property. Unlike in Gregory, the defendant here admitted that he might have sold or handed out the drugs, but he did not intend to distribute them on or within 1,000 feet of school property. Instead, he merely possessed them and intended to distribute them elsewhere. The court held that the statute imposed strict liability, meaning it does not matter if the defendant knew he was within 1,000 feet of school property. Thus, the defendant’s conviction under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7 was proper
In State v. Belnavis, 311 N.J.Super. 195, the defendant was caught making a drug transaction in a local park that was used by a school from time to time. The defendant argued that the local park was not the “school property used for school purpose” within the meaning of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, because it was neither owned nor leased by any school. The appellate court agreed with the defendant. As opposed to Ivory, where the property was owned by a school board, the property in Belnavis was only used by the school on occasion. Therefore, the court held that the local park did not qualify as “school property” for the purpose of school zone statutes and reversed the defendant’s conviction for Possession with Intent to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance within 1,000 Feet of School Property.

first offenseConsequences for a First Offense

New Jersey takes drug offenses seriously. As such, a person should not expect much leniency for a first offense of drug distribution and should expect even less when it’s coupled with Distributing Drugs in a School Zone. 

That does not mean it isn’t possible for a person with no prior offenses to get a light sentence with little or no jail time; instead, it means that person absolutely must have a skilled criminal defense attorney in his/her corner. 

An attorney will know how best to present the facts so as to offer the best chance of a light or probation-only sentence. In addition, an attorney will know when a person may be eligible for a diversionary program (see below) such as a conditional discharge or Pre-Trial Intervention. 

juvenilesConsequences for Juveniles

Young people often make mistakes. Perhaps a juvenile (under 18) was holding a package for a friend or found a container on the ground. It’s very possible for a young person to come into possession of drugs while on school grounds without knowing what they were. These could be valid defenses for a juvenile charged with Selling Drugs on school property. 

Juveniles charged with Selling Drugs in a School Zone or any other offense will not go to jail/prison, but could instead be sentenced to time in a juvenile detention facility. For many kids who have made a simple mistake, this is counterproductive to the goal of rehabilitating the child. 

It is critical that any parent whose child is charged with a drug offense contact an experienced attorney. Drug charges are serious matters, even for young people who may not have known entirely what they were doing. An attorney can ensure that police did not take advantage of a child’s frightened state to elicit answers or obtain evidence in a manner that violates the youth’s rights. The right attorney can also work with the judge and prosecutors to ensure that, if penalties are imposed, they suit the child’s emotional, medical, psychological and developmental needs. 

diversionEnrolling in NJ Diversionary Programs

For those who have little or no criminal history, it may be possible to enroll in a diversionary program. New Jersey offers several types of diversionary programs for different kinds of offenses.

A conditional discharge, for example, requires a person to go 6 months to 1 year without being charged with another offense. He/she will also have to undergo random drug testing to ensure he/she is drug-free during that time. Those who complete the program can have the charges dropped. 

Pre-Trial Intervention is another program that a person can enter. This is a custom program set up by the judge that could include counseling, drug testing, and community service, among other things. Again, completing the program—can take between 6 months and 3 years—means the charges will be dismissed. 

When addiction is a motivating factor in the commission of a crime, a person could opt to enroll in drug court. Unlike other programs, this requires the defendant to accept a conviction. However, the defendant will not go to prison; instead, he/she will partake in a rehabilitation program designed to help beat the addiction and reintegrate with society. 

New Jersey limits enrollment in its diversionary programs. Even those who are well qualified may not be denied entry. As such, it is best to consult with an attorney to determine eligibility and odds of acceptance. 

ExpungementExpunging a Conviction for Selling Drugs in a School Zone

A person who has made a simple mistake should not have to live with the consequences forever. Thankfully, it is possible for a person to have a conviction for Selling Drugs in a School Zone expunged in New Jersey. While there are offenses that render one ineligible to have their criminal record cleared, Selling Drugs in a School Zone is not one of them. 

Selling drugs in a school zone is an indictable offense (felony) in New Jersey and it is often charged alongside at least one other indictable offense (e.g. Selling Drugs – 2C:35-5). NJ expungement rules dictate that a person with more than one indictable offense cannot have his/her record cleared unless those offenses were charged in connection to the same event. 

As such, convictions for 2C:35-5 and 2C:35-7 can be expunged if they were charged together as part of the same incident. However, a person with unrelated indictable offense convictions, or more than three disorderly persons convictions would be ineligible. 

To find out more about the expungement process, read our information page. Then contact the expungement specialists at Rosenblum Law. 

FAQsFrequently Asked Questions

What is considered a drug free zone?

A “drug-free zone” is defined as any property that is used by a school or for school purposes. This includes playgrounds, buildings, and athletic fields.
The zone extends 1,000 feet from the edge of the property. A school bus is also considered a “drug-free zone.” Anyone caught selling drugs in a drug-free zone can be charged under 2C:35-7.

Are colleges considered school zones?

No, colleges and universities are not considered school zones for purposes of 2C:35-7. That is because the law is designed to protect minors (under 18) and the students in college are legally adults.

Is Selling Drugs in a School Zone a felony in NJ?

Yes, Selling Drugs in a School Zone is a third-degree crime in NJ, which is equivalent to a felony in most other states.

Are public parks drug-free zones?

If the park is used by the local school for its programs and/or is within 1,000 feet of school grounds then it could be considered a drug-free zone.

Who Should I Contact?

If you or a loved one has been charged with Selling Drugs on or Near School Grounds in New Jersey, contact the attorneys of Rosenblum Law today. Our team of New Jersey criminal defense attorneys will make every effort to protect your legal rights, minimize the consequences, and keep you out of prison. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 today.

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