Drugs in a School Zone Charges in Sussex County NJ
While selling and distributing drugs is a serious crime, the state of New Jersey imposes even harsher sentences on those that are selling drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. This separate and distinct charge can carry significant additional jail time including a period without the potential for parole. It is important to understand what is considered a school zone under New Jersey law, possible consequences of a conviction, and potential defenses for this serious charge. If you are facing charges for selling or distributing a controlled dangerous substance on or near school property, consulting with an experienced criminal attorney is strongly advised.
Our criminal defense lawyers are highly experienced handling drug charges in Sussex County, Warren County, and throughout New Jersey. We can help you understand the possible defenses available to you for a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, and help you build a solid case. Contact us today at 973-755-1695 for a free consultation about your drug charge in a school zone. We defend clients in Hackettstown, Phillipsburg, Allamuchy, Belvidere, Sparta, Newton, and surrounding towns and our lawyers know how to minimize or negate the consequences of a conviction. You can also contact us online anytime to arrange an appointment.
New Jersey Drugs in a School Zone Law: N.J.S.A. 2C35-7
The New Jersey statute that governs selling and distribution of drugs in a school zone specifically states that a person cannot simply be in possession of an illegal substance to be guilty of the crime. The person must have had an intent to sell or distribute a controlled dangerous substance while on school property, or within the legally recognized school zone.
Therefore, the burden of proof rests with the prosecutor, who must prove beyond a reasonable doubt to the court that the defendant was either on school grounds, or within 1,000 feet of school property, or on a school but with a controlled dangerous substance with the intent to distribute, or that distribution or selling of a controlled dangerous substance occurred. Simply proving that a defendant was in possession of a drug or controlled dangerous substance is not enough to warrant under conviction under N.J.S.A. 2C35-7.
What is Considered a School Zone in NJ?
According to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, school property is considered any property used for school purposes, including school buildings, playgrounds, or facilities that are owned by any elementary or secondary school, or school board. A school zone will also include any area within 1,000 feet of school property, or a school bus itself. This 1,000-foot area surrounding a school is considered a “drug-free school zone” for purposes of this statute.
Charged with Drug Distribution on School Property, What am I Facing?
If charged with and convicted of distribution or intent to distribute drugs in a school zone, New Jersey imposes serious and severe consequences. This is considered a third degree crime. A third degree conviction can include up to 5 years of prison time. There is also a mandatory period of parole ineligibility. If the controlled dangerous substance is one ounce or less of marijuana, then the minimum amount of parole eligibility would be between one-third and one-half of the imposed sentence, or one year, whichever is greater. A mandatory sentence is also required during which the defendant will be ineligible for parole. In all other cases, the term must be set at or between one-third and one-half of the sentence imposed, or 3 years, whichever is greater. Additionally, a fine of up to $150,000 can be imposed for violations of this statute.
If children were present during the time of the sale or distribution of drugs, if the defendant has a prior criminal record, if a firearm was present, or if the defendant threatened violence during the commission of the offense, the penalties can reach the upper limits with a denial of parole. While certain circumstances would allow a judge to reduce the amount of actual jail time, under no circumstances would a defendant be allowed to serve less than one-third to one-half of their sentence, or the required number of years depending on the substance, whichever is greater.
Again, this charge is separate and distinct from selling controlled dangerous substances and while criminal law often allows for the merger of different criminal offenses, this law proactively prohibits merging this conviction with other charges for drug distribution.
Are there Defenses for CDS in a School Zone in NJ?
Under N.J.S.C. 2d:35-7(f), the prosecutor is required to present a map of the area that establishes the exact location where the alleged activity occurred. If the prosecution is unable to prove exactly where the activity occurred, or that it occurred within school property, or within 1,000 feet of school property or a school bus, then they will not have met their burden of proof for a conviction.
Additionally, if the area is not actually used for any type of school purpose, the defendant may have a defense against this charge. Notably, it is irrelevant if the defendant did not know that their activity was taking place within a school zone or within 1,000 feet of a school zone. The intent to sell or the actual selling or distributing of a controlled dangerous substance within or near school property is considered a strict liability defense, and a lack of knowledge regarding territory and school zone borders is never a defense. Simply being on the school property or within 1,000 feet of school property or a school bus is enough to be charged and convicted.
With that being said, a knowledgeable attorney can examine all of the discovery in your case to find weaknesses in the evidence or violations of your rights that may provide grounds for evidence suppression or even be used to get the case dismissed. The best thing to do is have a lawyer review your specific case and delve into possible defense strategies.
Talk to a Newton NJ School Property Drug Charge Lawyer Today
If you or someone you love has been charged with N.J.S.A. 2C35-7, cocaine distribution, intent to distribute marijuana, selling heroin, or another controlled dangerous substance offense in Sussex County or Warren County, New Jersey, contact our criminal defense firm today at 973-755-1695 to discuss your case and receive a cost-free consultation. Our distinguished criminal lawyers are available day and night to provide you with more information.