Interviewer: What happens after an arrest on drug charges? How often are they going to have to make appearances in court?
Lauren Scardella: The initial court appearance would just be an arraignment in Municipal Court. That can be waived if they have already retained an attorney but sometimes, it’s so soon after they’ve been arrested that they don’t even have time to retain an attorney or call anybody before they have to appear in court. In that case, the person should go to court and just plead not guilty. If it’s an indictable offense, the judge actually can’t even take their plea in Municipal Court. They just inform them of the charges against them and what their rights are and send the case up to Superior Court.
Once a Defendant Has Been Arraigned it Becomes a Waiting Game
Once they’ve been arraigned or had the arraignment waived, it becomes a bit of a waiting game. Our state forensic laboratory takes a long time to analyze the samples that are given to them, often as many as 90 days and sometimes longer. Most of the time, we can have their court appearances adjourned while we’re waiting for the lab report because discovery is incomplete. Occasionally, we may have to appear just to tell the judge that the lab report still hasn’t been produced.
The Plea Offers that the Prosecutor’s Office is Going to Give Might Involve Conditions
For the most part, we usually don’t appear in court until the lab report has been provided. After that, it really depends on whether the client is a first offender and whether the case is in Municipal Court or Superior Court. If it’s in Municipal Court and there are no search and seizure or Miranda issues, we have been provided a valid lab report and it’s clear the State can prove each element of the offense, such as possession of the drugs, then sometimes things can be resolved in one court appearance. If it’s in Superior Court, it can take a bit longer. The plea offer that the prosecutor’s office gives might involve jail time. It might involve other conditions, such as testifying against a co-defendant. The process can vary there and you might have to appear in court multiple times before you either plead guilty or go to a trial or get admitted to PTI.
Potential Timeframe of Resolution for a Drug Case in New Jersey
Interviewer: How long can a case last? What’s the longest period of time that a case could last as far as drug cases go?
Lauren Scardella: They could last a year, or they could last 2 to 3 months. It really just depends on the circumstances of the case, and each case is very different.
The Difficult Aspects of Dealing with a Drug Related Case in New Jersey
Interviewer: What is the most difficult aspect of dealing with a drug case?
Lauren Scardella: The most difficult aspect is when you’re dealing with a client who truly has an addiction issue. They may not be willing to admit that they have an issue with addiction; they may be in denial about it. Or, they may recognize that they have a problem with addiction and not really be willing to do anything about it. That’s probably the biggest issue. Sometimes, people are dealing drugs just to support their own habit. Everybody has this conception that drug dealers are rich, but the majority of them are not. The rich guy is the person up high in the organization who is dealing solely to make money; the majority of low level drug dealers are just trying to support their own habit and having to deal with the addiction issues on top of the criminal issues can be challenging.