Law enforcement is cracking down on drug charges nationwide. Drug abuse violations accounted for over 1.6 million arrests in 2017—the highest number of arrests for any category. In New Jersey, drug abuse is a growing problem affecting a wide range of people, including teens and young adults.
Drug charges carry heavy consequences, no matter the person's age. Possessing, selling, or intending to sell drugs can lead to costly fines and lengthy prison sentences. For teens and young adults, the punishments can be just as severe.
If your child faces drug charges, it's vital to contact an attorney. They can help you navigate the intimidating and complex criminal justice process. Lento Law Firm can help you defend your child and protect their freedom.
What Happens in a Juvenile Drug Arrest?
Police will typically take a minor into custody if they have probable cause to believe they are guilty of a drug crime. Law enforcement will usually bring minors in for questioning before charging them with a criminal delinquency complaint.
Once the office signs the delinquency complaint, they can hold the juvenile in a detention facility or release them to their parents. New Jersey State Statute 2A:4A-34 requires that the court only detain juveniles if they are considered a danger to the community or at risk of not appearing in court.
The case will then move to a family court hearing. During the hearing, a judge will review the facts of the case to make a determination. If the judge finds the minor guilty, they will adjudicate them delinquent. New Jersey law defines delinquency as a juvenile act which, if committed by an adult would constitute a crime, disorderly offense, or a violation of any other penal statute, ordinance, or regulation. The judge will then order a disposition that outlines the punishment.
New Jersey State Statute 2A:4A-39 provides juveniles with the right to counsel in all matters that “may result in the institutional commitment of the juvenile.” An attorney can represent your child at all hearings. They can fight for your child's innocence and present the best chance to avoid a conviction.
What are the Types of Drug Charges?
Police can charge juveniles with drug charges if they possess an illegal controlled dangerous substance. Common charges include possession, distribution, and intent to distribute. Minors may also face additional charges if they possess drugs in a motor vehicle or on school property.
The New Jersey Controlled Dangerous Substances Act classifies drugs into five schedules. These schedules vary based on factors such as the drug's potential for abuse, pharmacological effect, the risk to public health, and dependence liability.
New Jersey's drug schedule is as follows:
Schedule I: Substances with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. Examples include heroin, peyote, ecstasy, LSD, and marijuana. New Jersey marijuana laws are currently in flux and may be subject to change.
Schedule II: Substances with high potential for abuse and risk of severe dependence with accepted medical use in U.S. treatment. Examples include opium, fentanyl, and methadone.
Schedule III: Substances with less potential for abuse than Schedule I and II substances. These substances also have accepted medical use in the U.S. and moderate to low risks of dependence. Examples include codeine, ketamine, and LSD.
Schedule IV: Substances with low potential for abuse and dependence relative to Schedule III substances and accepted medical use in the U.S. Examples include prescription drugs like sleep aids and other mild sedatives.
Schedule V: Substances with very low potential for abuse and dependence with accepted medical use in the U.S. Substances include low doses of narcotic drugs like codeine and opium.
The severity of drug offenses generally depends on the schedule of the drug. Punishments are typically more severe for drugs with higher risks of abuse and dependency.
What are the Penalties for Drug Charges?
If the police arrest your child for drug charges, you must be aware of the potential consequences. New Jersey takes drug charges very seriously. Any person who possesses a controlled substance without authorization is subject to penalties under the New Jersey Code of Criminal Justice 2C 35-10.
Drug charges have punishments, including incarceration and steep fines. For example, the court can impose a fine of up to $35,0000 for possession of a Schedule I, II, III, or IV drug. Although drug charges carry significant consequences for adults, the ramifications for minors are typically less severe.
The juvenile justice system operates differently than the criminal justice system. Courts focus on the best interests of the child to help rehabilitate minors that commit delinquent acts. As a result, judges frequently offer minors the chance to enter diversion programs. Diversion programs allow juveniles to avoid incarceration and have their records expunged.
Here are some of the common diversion methods for juvenile delinquent for drug charges:
- Community service
- Rehabilitation programs
- Drug screenings
- Education services
Judges do not always offer minors the opportunity to enter diversion programs. Your child's punishment may be more severe depending on the offense's nature and prior record. Your child may face incarceration in a juvenile detention center if they have multiple offenses or fail to meet their diversion program requirements.
A drug charge can not only jeopardize your child's freedom, but it can also negatively impact their life for years to come. Drug charges lead to many collateral consequences that can adversely affect your child. A juvenile adjudication can lead to issues getting accepted into universities, being approved for student loans, finding employment, and renting or purchasing a house. Criminal records can follow your child well into adulthood. You should work with an attorney to fight back and push for a reduction of charges.
Will my child be charged as an adult?
If your child is a minor, they will most likely enter the juvenile justice system. New Jersey law designates that anyone under the age of 18 is a juvenile. The juvenile justice system treats illegal acts committed by minors as delinquency rather than crimes.
The juvenile justice system also gives minors the chance to expunge their records. Your child can expunge their record if they meet the following terms:
- Three years passed since they were discharged from custody or supervision
- They are not convicted of a crime or adjudicated delinquent in those three years
- They were not declared delinquent for a non-expungable crime
- They have not had an adult conviction expunged
- They never had adult criminal charges dismissed following completion of a diversion program
Your child may not be able to expunge their crime depending on the offense. Certain drug-related offenses are considered a non-expungable crime, such as trafficking drugs.
The New Jersey Revised Statute 2A:4A-26.1 states that courts may charge juveniles as adults if they were 15 or older at the time of the alleged incident. Under this rule, the court may issue a presumptive waiver to enter your child into the criminal justice system. This rule only applies to serious crimes, such as liability for drug-induced death or a narcotics trafficking violation.
How can I help my child?
There's no denying that a drug crime is a serious offense. A drug charge can leave your child with a costly fine and a black mark on their permanent record. Even worse, a drug charge can threaten their freedom.
If our child is facing a drug charge, you may be unsure of how to proceed. Many parents have no experience in the criminal or juvenile justice systems, which are chock-full of potential hazards. One small misstep can hurt your child's case and jeopardize their future.
It's strongly recommended that you consult with an experienced defense attorney to help you through this process. An attorney can use their valuable knowledge and experience to advocate on your child's behalf.
In New Jersey, juvenile drug charges can lead to a wide range of outcomes. With such high stakes, it's essential to use your right to an attorney. An attorney can review the evidence and prepare a defense for your child's hearing. They will use their keen understanding of the law to push for the best possible result in your child's case.
Your child may be able to avoid incarceration, enter into a diversion program, or have their charges dismissed depending on the facts of their case. An attorney will work to protect your child's innocence and fight tirelessly to protect their rights.
A drug charge can have life-changing effects for juveniles. An attorney will protect your child's short and long-term future. A New Jersey criminal defense attorney is essential in any juvenile drug case.
Is your child facing drug crime allegations? Joseph D. Lento is here for you. The Lento Law Firm has spent many years representing minors facing juvenile delinquency. The experienced attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have a track record of success and a history of delivering positive results for families in New Jersey. Give the Lento Law Firm a call today at 888-535-3686 to schedule an initial consultation with attorney Joseph D. Lento and our defense team.