A person found in possession of heroin or any other CDS (controlled dangerous substances) is facing serious legal trouble. The potential penalties for possession of heroin are severe and include jail time and massive fines. The good news is that there are ways to protect oneself from the worst penalties and potentially avoid both a conviction and the repercussions of a criminal record.
What Are the Penalties for Heroin Possession?
Possession of heroin or other drugs means facing the following penalties, even for a first offense:
- 3 to 5 years in prison
- A fine of $500 to $15,000, depending on the amount
- Driver’s license suspension between 6 months and 2 years
- Court-ordered drug rehabilitation
In addition to these penalties, a person will also have a permanent criminal record. This will have a massive negative impact on many aspects of a person’s life. A drug conviction can impact one’s job opportunities, immigration status, and custody of one’s child(ren), just to name a few.
Heroin Possession Near Schools or Parks
A person who is caught with heroin or other drugs near a school or park will face additional penalties on top of those listed above. A person can be charged with possession near a school zone if he/she is within 1,000 feet of any kind of day care, child care, or educational facility. Alternatively, a person can be charged if they are caught with drugs on a school bus, regardless of distance from the school itself. Upon conviction, a person can be sentenced to 100 hours of community service and have their options for parole reduced. He/she could also face additional fines.
Possession within 500 feet of a public park can add up to 5 years onto one’s sentence and up to $35,000 in fines.
It’s worth noting that a person need not be aware that they were within such distance of a school or park in order to face the additional penalties. However, unlike a basic possession charge, these penalties apply only to possession with the intent to sell/distribute. A person who can prove in court that there was no intent to distribute can eliminate some or all of these additional penalties.
Defenses to Heroin Possession Charges
One of the most powerful tools a person can use when defending against heroin possession charges is to ask the court to “suppress” or exclude evidence that may not have been legally obtained. Suppressing evidence means the prosecutors cannot bring it up in court and use it against the defendant. To do this requires the help of a talented attorney. The attorney can examine the facts of the case, including how the evidence was obtained by police. It’s all too common for police to violate people’s Constitutional rights in the effort to obtain evidence of a crime. This can be done through illegal lines of questioning, coercion, or an illegal search. When this happens, any and all evidence obtained that way can potentially be suppressed. In some cases, this can result in the case being dismissed or thrown out. In others, it severely weakens the prosecution’s arguments for conviction.
Another tactic is to disprove “constructive possession;” in other words to argue that the defendant did not knowingly or intentionally have possession or ownership of the drugs. A skilled defense attorney can use facts and logic to poke holes in the prosecutor’s evidence and prevent him/her from being able to prove constructive possession.
For example, State v. McMenamin established that simply being on the same premises as drugs is insufficient to prove that a person “had dominion” (owned) them (this could change, however, if we are talking about drugs that are found in a person’s home). This is further established in State v. Shipp, in which the defendant was a passenger in the front seat of a vehicle. Drugs were discovered hidden in a bag on the back seat next to another passenger. The judge ruled that just being in the car with the drugs did not prove constructive possession.
Plea Bargains for Heroin Possession NJ
Depending on the circumstances of the case, it may be wisest to negotiate with prosecutors and/or the judge to reduce the charges or minimize the penalties–also called a “plea bargain” or “plea deal”–rather than go to trial. An expert defense attorney will know when a heroin possession charge can be beaten in court and when it makes the most sense to take a plea deal. Examples of effective plea bargains can be having multiple charges for possession reduce to one, or having the charge reduced to a different disorderly persons charge. Other times, an attorney can negotiate a sentence of probation rather than jail/prison.
Pre-Trial Intervention for Heroin Possession
Those facing first-time heroin possession charges may have other alternatives to fighting the case at trial: Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI). The goal of PTI is to deter a person from committing a crime again without sending him/her to prison. The exact nature of the program will depend on the charge itself and may involve drug testing, counseling, rehab, and community service. A PTI program can be as short as 6 months or as long as 3 years. Those who successfully complete the program will not be convicted—meaning there will be no criminal record.
Drug Court for Heroin Possession
Persons whose crimes are motivated by drug addiction (including possession) can enter drug court as an alternative to prison. Drug court is a supervised probationary program focused on rehabilitation from both addiction and criminal behavior. In contrast to PTI, entering drug court requires a guilty plea. However, this is an acceptable alternative for those who suffer from serious addiction and want help breaking both the addiction and the criminal behavior it is inspiring. Like PTI, the nature of one’s drug court program will be based on the individual case and the defendant’s specific needs. It can include, recurring court appearances and/or meetings with a probation officer, random drug testing, a detox program, residential program, counseling, 12-step or self-help groups, and community service.
Avoiding a License Suspension for Heroin Possession
New Jersey is very strict in its application of license suspensions in response to drug possession convictions. While leniency is rare, it can be obtained with the help of an attorney. An attorney can circumvent a suspension by proving the loss of the license will cause extreme hardship to the defendant and/or his/her family. An example would be if the person could not get to work any other way (no viable public transportation routes). A person with serious medical needs or who has a family member (mother, child, or other dependents) who would be unable to attend doctor appointments without a vehicle may also be eligible for a hardship exception.
Even if the above is true, judges are tough on defendants facing drug charges. Having the right attorney with experience in such matters can make the difference in one being able to maintain their license.
What to Do If Charged with Heroin Possession
Having police accuse one of possessing heroin or other drugs is a frightening experience. It can often lead a person to do things that would not help them and could even make things worse. Here are some tips for anyone who is in such a situation.
- Don’t run. If police frisk a person and find drugs, do not run! This can result in an additional charge of fleeing police and only makes a person look guilty.
- Say nothing. Do not respond to police questions about what occurred. Remember, whether a person is under arrest or not, he/she has the right to remain silent. Leverage that right until one can…
- Call an attorney. Get advice from a lawyer as soon as humanly possible. It’s a bad idea to assume that one can beat the charge on his/her own. Even someone who is genuinely innocent can accidentally say or do something that makes it difficult to prove as much.
Who Should I Call If I Have Been Charged with Heroin Possession?
If you or a loved one has been arrested for possession of heroin or other drugs in New Jersey, you need expert advice from an experienced attorney. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law Firm are skilled criminal defense attorneys who have helped many people in similar situations. Email the Rosenblum Law Firm or call 888-815-3649 today for a free consultation about your case.