Drug Conspiracy in New Jersey

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) released the 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment outlining U.S. drug distribution and abuse. Illegal drugs are attributed to more fatalities than “firearms, motor vehicle crashes, suicide, and homicide.” There was an average of 174 such overdose deaths each day during 2016. The organized criminal activity commonly involves opioids, which include prescription pain medications, heroin, and various synthetic products including fentanyl. The other major drugs in the illicit market include methamphetamine, cocaine, and several new psychoactive substances.

Conspiracy to Commit Drug-Related Crime

There are two ways that a person can be guilty of conspiring with others to commit a crime. The first is when an agreement exists among people to engage in criminal activity or to attempt to do so. The other involves providing assistance or aid to people who are planning to or actively committing criminal activity.

Those who conspire with someone to commit a crime that is aware that the individual also conspires with others to commit the same offense(s) all deemed to be conspiring with one another. This applies regardless of whether they have met or actually know one another. Generally, those who conspire together to commit several crimes may only be charged with a single conspiracy charge.

Duration of Conspiracy

Conspiracy is considered to be an ongoing behavior that only terminates once the crime(s) has been committed or when all parties to the conspiracy have ended their agreement. For a party in a conspiracy to terminate the agreement, they must inform the others involved in the conspiracy or notify an agency of law enforcement about the conspiracy.

Renunciation of Purpose Defense

State provisions allow for an affirmative defense among those who conspire to commit crimes. The individual must be able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that they notified the authorities of the conspiracy and their role in it. This applies when their actions result in a thwarting of the conspiracy and thus prevent further criminal activity.

Structure of Trafficking Conspiracies in New Jersey

The DEA summarized the distribution structures that exist for the trafficking of drugs in the New Jersey region. One example is for trafficking in cocaine. Colombian organizations have long been responsible for smuggling, importing, and handling mass distribution. Dominican organizations then distribute the drug to local African American gangs that conduct the street-level sales. They also reported recently that several Mexican organizations are now increasingly involved at all levels.

Understanding the Grading of Offenses for Criminal Attempt (2C:5-4)

Generally, the act of attempting or conspiring to commit a first-degree criminal offense is charged as a second-degree offense. Exceptions exist for attempting or conspiring to commit murder or acts of terrorism. The acts of attempting or conspiring to commit offenses that are graded at lower levels are typically charged at the same level as the offense.

The courts generally may use their discretion when considering whether to lower the grade of an offense. This applies when the defendant's conduct was deemed as not being dangerous enough to public safety to warrant such high-level charges. Those found to have attempted or conspired to commit offenses against public places of worship or involving human trafficking do warrant first-degree charges.

New Jersey Legislative Declaration (2C:35-1.1)

Lawmakers are seeking to reduce the abuse of controlled substances and drug-related criminal activity at each point across the networks of distribution. They are particularly concerned with swiftly prosecuting and strongly punishing those conspiring in the higher levels. The State acknowledged that their resources have limitations and thus should be directed at those involved in large-scale distribution.

For lower-level drug abusers, they are continuing their efforts to treat and rehabilitate them. Drug-related activity that places children at risk is another priority. The sentencing provisions of the New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act have been revised to reflect these goals.

The Leadership of Narcotics Trafficking Networks (2C:35-3)

An individual may be considered to be a leader of a drug trafficking network when they conspire with others to illegally “manufacture, distribute, dispense, bring into or transport” dangerous controlled substances in New Jersey. This includes “methamphetamine, lysergic acid diethylamide, phencyclidine, gamma hydroxybutyrate, flunitrazepam or any controlled dangerous substance classified in Schedule I or II.”

These criminal enterprises have leaders that may function in financing or organizing and may have individuals who function in a supervisory or management role. A “financier” is someone who has an economic interest in the trafficking operation. They may provide needed capital or funding to otherwise support the operation.

Those who lead a narcotics trafficking network may be charged with a first-degree offense. If convicted, a life-term of imprisonment may be imposed that carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years prior to having any eligibility for parole. The monetary penalties are also significantly enhanced and a fine of up to $750,000 may be imposed or a fine that is five times the “street value” of the drugs involved.

Determining the Overall Value

When prosecuting these cases, it is not critical to determine that actual profits that were made. The trier of fact (judge or jury) may make this determination by considering the following factors:

  • The number of individuals that were a part of the scheme
  • The estimated net worth of those involved
  • Amounts of the controlled substances involved in the distribution and the purity of the substances
  • Amounts of cash or other items of value involved

Alleged offenders are not able to employ a defense that they were merely transporting the controlled substances through New Jersey for distribution in another state or jurisdiction. Alleged offenders also are not able to employ a defense that they were simply following the orders of a supervisor or manager when acting as part of the trafficking network.

Standard Penalties for Offenses in New Jersey

The following chart contains the levels of crime and the corresponding penalties. Keep in mind that these do not include the “enhanced” penalties that may apply to drug-related offenses. 

Offense Level

Incarceration Period

Maximum Fine

First Degree

10 to 20 years

Up to $200,000

Second Degree

5 to 10 years

Up to $150,000

Third Degree

3 to 5 years

Up to $15,000

Fourth Degree

18 months

Up to $10,000

Disorderly Person Offense

6 months

Up to $1,000

Defense Lawyer for Allegations of Conspiracy

Those who have been charged with participating in a drug-related criminal conspiracy can ill afford to retain mediocre legal representation. The penalties that may now be imposed following a conviction are far too harsh. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively defend these cases. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686 for a consultation. 

​​​Contact The Lento Law Firm Today

When it comes to criminal defense cases, you need the right person in your corner. To learn more about how Mr. Lento can help you, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686. or contact him online.

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