In New Jersey, drug possession is a serious crime that can carry thousands of dollars in fines (if not tens of thousands of dollars in fines) and several years of prison time. As a result, if you have been arrested and charged with drug possession, you need to do everything you can to protect yourself. The good news is that there are several potential defenses to drug possession charges in New Jersey—and you will have defenses available regardless of the facts of your case. But, to assert these defenses effectively, you will need an experienced New Jersey drug lawyer on your side.
Defenses to Drug Possession Charges Under New Jersey Law
How can a New Jersey drug lawyer help you fight your possession charge? The answer to this question depends on the facts at hand. While there are defenses available in all circumstances, determining which defenses you can use requires a clear understanding of the facts before, during and after your arrest.
With this in mind, here are some examples of potential defenses to a drug possession charge under New Jersey law:
You Weren’t In Possession of Drugs
Under New Jersey’s drug possession statute (Section 2C:35-10), it is against the law to “possess, actually or constructively” a controlled dangerous substance. As a result, one way to defend against a drug possession charge is to challenge the prosecution’s evidence that you were in actual or constructive possession of the drugs in question.
Actual possession means what most people generally think of when they hear the term “possession.” But, constructive possession is broader. Even if you aren’t physically in possession of drugs, you can still be found guilty if you are “aware that the item is present and . . . able to and ha[ve] the intention to exercise control over it.”
Even so, prosecutions won’t be able to prove possession in all cases. For example, if prosecutors cannot prove that you intended to exercise control over drugs that the police found in your vicinity, this could be enough to save you from a drug possession conviction.
You Weren’t Knowingly in Possession of Drugs
New Jersey’s drug possession statute also requires evidence that you were “knowingly or purposely” in possession of a controlled dangerous substance. If prosecutors cannot prove that you knew the drugs were there, this could be enough to save you from a conviction as well.
For example, let’s say you were hosting a house party and your neighbors called the police. When the police showed up, they found drugs in your living room. If there is no evidence to suggest that you knew someone brought drugs to the party, then you do not deserve to be convicted of drug possession under New Jersey law.
You Have a Valid Prescription
If you got arrested for possession of prescription drugs and you have a valid prescription for the medication in question (or received the medication directly from your doctor), you should not face criminal consequences. Police officers will sometimes arrest individuals who cannot produce a copy of their prescription. While the police may have legitimate concerns about illegal prescription drugs in certain circumstances, if you have a valid prescription, this should serve as a complete defense.
The Police Illegally Stopped or Searched You
Under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the police must have “reasonable suspicion” to stop and search you. They cannot stop and search you without cause (unless you consent), and they cannot target you based on your race, color, ethnicity or other personal characteristics.
If the police illegally stopped and searched you, then the evidence they obtained as a result of the illegal stop and search may be inadmissible in court. If prosecutors don’t have any evidence that they can use against you, they won’t be able to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The Police Illegally Arrested You
The police need “probable cause” to arrest you under the Fourth Amendment. This is a higher standard than “reasonable suspicion.” As a result, even if the police legally stopped and searched you, your arrest still could have been unlawful.
Similar to lack of “reasonable suspicion,” lack of “probable cause” can justify a motion to suppress the government’s evidence from your drug possession trial. Your New Jersey drug lawyer can determine if a motion to suppress is warranted—and if so, your lawyer can fight to protect your constitutional rights in court.
The Police Violated Your Miranda Rights
Once the police take you into custody, they are required to read your Miranda rights before interrogating you. If the police interrogated you in custody without reading your rights—and if you admitted to drug possession during questioning—then your New Jersey drug lawyer may be able to keep your confession out of court. If prosecutors don’t have enough other evidence to prove that you are guilty, this could be enough to avoid a conviction.
The Prosecution’s Evidence is Compromised
In many drug possession cases, the drugs themselves will be key evidence for the prosecution. Prosecutors may also rely on eyewitness testimony and other forms of evidence as well.
If the government’s evidence is compromised, then prosecutors shouldn’t be able to use it to secure a conviction. For example, if there are chain of custody issues, contamination issues or the prosecution’s key witness is untrustworthy, these are all factors that could entitle you to a verdict of “Not guilty.”
The Prosecution is Withholding Exculpatory Evidence
Prosecutors have a constitutional duty to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense. They also have an affirmative duty to correct their witnesses’ false testimony. If the prosecutors handling your drug possession case have engaged in any form of misconduct (or engage in any form of misconduct during your trial), this could provide you with a defense as well.
Prosecutors Can’t Meet Their Burden of Proof
Finally, regardless of the facts of your case, prosecutors have the burden of proving your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If they can’t meet this burden of proof, then you are entitled to a “Not guilty” verdict—no matter what.
As you can see, fighting a drug possession charge in New Jersey does not require proof that you are innocent. Individuals who get caught with drugs can avoid convictions in many cases. The key is to determine which defense (or defenses) you have available based on the facts of your case and then to work closely with your New Jersey drug lawyer to assert these defenses effectively.
“Defenses” That Won’t Protect You in a New Jersey Drug Possession Case
While there are several potential defenses to drug possession charges in New Jersey, there are also several “defenses” that won’t protect you in court. When you are facing prosecution for drug possession, it is critical to avoid making assertions that prosecutors can use against you. For example, if you assert any of the following, you could be admitting to drug possession under New Jersey law:
- You Were Holding the Drugs for a Friend – Even if the drugs weren’t yours, if you were holding them, you could still be found guilty of drug possession. In New Jersey, the law focuses on possession, not ownership. This means that if you knowingly possessed an illegal drug for any reason, you can be found guilty of drug possession in New Jersey.
- You Didn’t Realize You Were Breaking the Law – It also is not a defense that you were unaware you were breaking the law. For example, let’s say you are being charged with possession of marijuana. In New Jersey, it is only legal to possess six ounces or less for personal use. If you had more than six ounces of marijuana on you when you got arrested, you can be found guilty even if you weren’t aware that this was illegal.
- The Police Searched You, Your Car or Your House Without a Warrant – While the police need a warrant to conduct a search in some circumstances, there are also several exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement. So, while this might provide a defense, it also might not. For example, if you consented to a search (even if you didn’t realize that you could refuse consent), then a warrant may not have been required.
Even “simple” drug possession cases can be surprisingly complicated. As a result, if you are facing a drug possession charge in New Jersey, it is important not to make any assumptions about your case. To ensure that you are making smart decisions with your long-term best interests in mind, you should speak with a New Jersey drug lawyer as soon as possible.
Discuss Your Possession Case with a New Jersey Drug Lawyer in Confidence
Are you facing a drug possession charge in New Jersey? If so, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. To discuss your defense with an experienced New Jersey drug lawyer as soon as possible, call 877-435-6371 or tell us how we can contact you online today.