NJ Drug Court: Avoiding a Custodial/Jail Sentence

I recently defended a client who was facing a myriad of serious drug charges including 3rd degree possession of cocaine, 2nd degree intent to distribute cocaine, distribution within 1000 ft of a school zone, and distribution within 500 ft of a public park. After reviewing the discovery, my client and I both decided that going to trial was probably no the best option given the amount of jail time he could face if convicted. A second degree offense carries 5 to 10 years in state prison. Distribution within 1000 ft of a school zone is a third degree offense, but if convicted, the defendant faces mandatory jail (typically not less than 3 years).

I negotiated with the county prosecutor and we discussed the possibility of Drug Court. Drug Court is a New Jersey court run drug treatment program. It is an alternative to incarceration. The defendant must apply to the drug court and be accepted. Drug court is not easy. Typically the defendant will have to submit to intense in-patient treatment, frequent drug testing and reporting requirements, and 5 yrs of probation. However, no custodial sentence is imposed as long as the defendant complies. There are also many bars to acceptance. If an individual has committed certain criminal offenses in the past, the application may be denied. Nonetheless,  a good Essex County NJ defense lawyer can frequently find ways around prior convictions that may be a problem.

Please note that your attorney must still negotiate a plea to the charged drug offense and the defendant must plea guilty to that charge. Therefore, it is imperative that the best possible plea deal is reached, because if the defendant “fails” out of drug court, the court can proceed on  that plea and sentence the defendant accordingly.

In my recent case, my client’s initial application to NJ drug court was rejected because of what appeared to be a prior conviction for a violent offense. After doing some research, I found that the prior court had entered the incorrect offense on the Judgment of Conviction. It was corrected and my client was accepted. In addition, I was able to negotiate a plea deal whereby the most serious of the charged drug offenses were dismissed, thus protecting my client in the future if he did not succeed in the NJ drug Court program.

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