Interviewer: What would you say are some things that would help someone’s drug related case?
Lauren Scardella: Doing the right things when you get arrested, like not agreeing to allow the officers to search your car, or not making spontaneous statements about your ownership of the drugs. Those things will make a difference in the long run and they will make it easier for a lawyer to defend your case. It’s not as much about what you can do while your case is ongoing but what you do when you’re interacting with the police.
People Generally Do Not Know That They’re Being Investigated For Drugs Until They Get Arrested
Interviewer: If there’s an ongoing investigation and it’s drug related, how do people typically know that they’re being investigated?
Lauren Scardella: They sell something to an undercover cop, or they find out when their door gets busted down and there’s a raid. With drug charges, because drugs are easy to dispose of, the cops are pretty good about keeping their investigations quiet. You don’t know when you’re being investigated until you have your first interaction with the police, which is usually a less than pleasant experience.
Diversionary Programs Available for First Time Drug Offenders in New Jersey
Interviewer: What diversionary programs are available for first time offenders? Is there anything available for repeat offenders?
Lauren Scardella: First time drug offenders in municipal court are eligible for a program called the Conditional Discharge, which involves a period of probation and could be supervised or unsupervised. At the end of the probation, as long as you’ve paid the costs and haven’t violated your probation in any way, your charges would be dismissed. Similarly, in Superior Court, you might be eligible for Pretrial Intervention (PTI). That’s a similar program to the Conditional Discharge, but it’s a little bit more involved and you have to actually meet with a probation officer but the end result is the same. As long as you comply with all the conditions, then at the end of the period of probation, your charges are dismissed.
Repeat Drug Offenders May Be Eligible for Drug Court which is an Extremely Intensive Program
For somebody who’s a repeat offender, there are no diversionary programs that would result in their charges being dismissed but they may be eligible for Drug Court. Drug Court is a conviction and you do plead guilty, but it’s a special sentence called special probation, which is Drug Court. You would be on Drug Court for 5 years, during which you meet with the judge weekly, go to counseling and possibly an inpatient rehab or an intensive outpatient rehab program. The sanctions for failing to comply are pretty harsh. I’ve had clients who failed to report to their probation officer one week and when they went to Drug Court the next week, the judge stuck them in jail for 4 days. It’s really meant for people who have a significant problem with substance abuse and it’s meant to really help offenders work towards rehabilitation and work through their addiction so that they can become more productive members of society.
It is Not Advisable to Plead Guilty to a Drug Charge Without Having an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Review Your Case
Interviewer: What’s wrong with pleading guilty and expecting mercy from the court? What could be the problem with that?
Lauren Scardella: As with any criminal charge, the state has to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. That means that you want your lawyer to look at all the evidence and determine whether there’s search and seizure issues, or if you were interrogated prior to being read your Miranda rights. Your lawyer should also be reviewing the lab report, because without a positive lab result, the State can’t prove an essential element of its case, which is that what you had was actually a controlled dangerous substance. If you just want to go in and plead guilty, you’re giving up the opportunity to defend your case and it doesn’t make you look any better. The constitution exists for a reason and nobody is going to punish you more harshly for exercising your rights.