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You read that right, folks! In what some are considering a big step towards legalization (or at least decriminalization), New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal sent a letter to all municipal prosecutors in the state directing them to seek adjournments of all marijuana related cases until September 4, 2018 or later. It is being reported that AG Grewal is seeking this delay so that his office may develop “appropriate guidance”, for prosecutors. “What does that mean for my case?” you may be asking.
What does it REALLY mean? Good question. Last week we heard that Jersey City sought to establish a marijuana decriminalization policy. Almost immediately the AG’s Office said no way… And now this. Confusing to be sure, and reading the tea leaves may not be easy. Ordinarily, Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana (under 50 grams) N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10 is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by a $1,000 dollar fine, six months in county jail, and a potential suspension of your driving privileges for up to six months (to read more about this offense, click here). While this move by the AG could indeed signal a step towards decriminalization, It is certainly no guarantee. One thing is for sure; such a move would have major implications for prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, and New Jersey citizens charged with marijuana related offenses.
It has been rumored for years that New Jersey was seeking to legalize recreational marijuana use. In reality, it has been more than just rumor. Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) has been drafting legislation for years, and has been pushing the same. Alas, the legislation has stalled, yet again, as legislators in Trenton bicker as to what form this should take. Concerns include tax revenue, health considerations, and legal implications. Whatever the intent behind this request for a delay in prosecution of pending cases means, this attorney strongly cautions against getting carried away, and presuming that you are free to toke up without legal consequences. Indeed, to do so would not be wise!
Recently, Virginia Circuit Court Judge, Steven C. Frucci ruled that police can make you unlock your phone with your fingerprint if you are using that biometric security feature on you cell phone. They cannot, however force you to turn over your numerical passcode if you are utilizing that method of security, the judge ruled. (Commonwealth of Virginia v. David Charles Baust) But why, and what is the difference? More importantly, does this apply in New Jersey?
The Blizzard of 2015… In New Jersey, it was the event that never was. However, it is still a good time to remind people of their obligations toy remove snow from their car when it snows, imposed by motor vehicle statute 39:4-77.1, which requires that “Each driver of a motor vehicle operated on a street or highway in the state shall have an affirmative duty to make all reasonable efforts to remove accumulated ice or snow from exposed surfaces of the motor vehicle prior to operation, which surfaces shall include, but not be limited to, the hood, trunk, windshield, windows, and roof of the motor vehicle, the cab of the truck, the top of the trailer or semitrailer being drawn by a motor vehicle, and the top of the intermodal freight container being carried by an intermodal chassis.”
As a New Jersey criminal defense attorney, I have helped countless clients charged with possession of marijuana avoid conviction. Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana Under 50 Grams, under sub-section (4) of 2C:35-10 is one of the most common disorderly persons offenses a criminal lawyer encounters. Why? Because it is a very popular controlled substance, there is a very casual attitude about it’s use, and it has a strong distinct odor. This means that there are a greater number of people using marijuana than other controlled substances. Because of the casual attitude towards marijuana, people sometimes forget that it is in fact illegal, or resent having to behave in a secretive way about using it when they ought to be more discreet in order to avoid detection. Both raw, unburned marijuana, as well as marijuana smoke have a strong odor which permeates cars, hair, clothes, and even tends to linger outdoors. This gives law enforcement a big advantage in detecting the presence or use of the drug. All this translates into a large number of arrests. My office is located near Rutgers University. I have spoken to many Rutgers and New Brunswick police officers who candidly tell me how prevalent marijuana use seems to be, the high frequency with which they smell it, and how easy making those arrests are.
Conditional Dismissal is a much welcomed diversionary program which was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie (R) as P.L. 2013 c. 158 on September 6, 2013, and went into effective January 4, 2014. It allows those who qualify, charged with disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offenses in municipal court, an opportunity to keep a clean record provided they successfully complete a 1 year period of probation without any additional criminal convictions. This is a perfect compliment to the Conditional Discharge Program, under N.J.S.A. 2C:36A-1, which works similarly, but applies only to drug offenses, and the Pre-Trial Intervention Program under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12 which applies to indictable offenses. In a time when the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the New Jersey Attorney General strongly discourage municipal prosecutors from downgrading disorderly persons offenses to non-criminal municipal ordinances, this is a valuable option for prosecutors and defense attorneys resolving cases.
Getting arrested or charged with a criminal offense is a scary experience. Whether you saw it coming or it was a complete surprise, in the blink of an eye your life has just taken a drastic turn. Now, you’re sitting in a police car. You’re handcuffed. You’re being questioned by a detective… Hard. You’re saying to yourself the whole time, “I can’t believe this is happening!” The experience of being charge with a crime is extremely upsetting, and can be overwhelming. When it actually happens to you, and you’re confronted with the reality of the situation (and the possible consequences), it can feel like your world is being turned upside down. You’re left feeling confused and scared. Most of all, you just want to know what’s going to happen next.
What is drug paraphernalia? In New Jersey, being charged with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia under 2C:36-2, mean you have in your possession with intent to use, a wide variety of items, as described generally and in detail by 2C:36-1, to plant, propagate, cultivate, grow, harvest, manufacture, compound, convert, produce, process, prepare, test, analyze, pack, repack, store, contain, conceal, ingest, inhale, or otherwise introduce into the human body a controlled dangerous substance, controlled substance analog, or toxic chemical. That covers quite a bit of ground, and would seemingly include a lot of items that have a perfectly lawful purpose… like plastic baggies. So, how does a prosecution determine that items are drug paraphernalia, and not a lawful item?
I frequently help people when they fail to appear at a scheduled court date, in New Jersey. Failure to appear can be serious. How I approach the problem depends on several factors. I determine whether they have failed to appear in a New Jersey municipal court, or a superior court. I also determine how many times it has happened, as well as how serious the underlying charges are. All are factors which determine how a court will react to an absentee defendant. The consequences for missing court varies, and can be quite serious, therefore it is important to handle these types of situation very carefully.
Harassment, charged under 2C:33-4 is one of those charges in New Jersey that doesn’t sound particularly serious. The vast majority of times it isn’t, and is charged as a petty disorderly persons offense, carrying no more than a $500 fine and up to 30 days in county jail. When charged in this fashion it is handled in municipal court. Many times the conduct is either a de minimis infraction, or does not actually rise to the level of harassment, as a matter of law. When representing clients charged under these circumstances, resolution is usually easily achieved with a dismissal, or downgrade to a non-criminal offense such as a local ordinance. However, there are circumstances when Harassment can be brought as a fourth degree indictable offense, which is a much more serious legal situation, and why you should be familiar with New Jersey Harassment laws.
Election day, 2014. On the ballot for New Jersey voters, is a public question regarding bail reform. The question will ask if New Jersey’s Constitution should be amended to allow judges to deny bail to certain dangerous offenders. This is an absurd proposition, unnecessary, Unconstitutional, and will lead to not only additional litigation to an already overburdened criminal justice system, but will also waste the time of legislators who, ultimately, will have to spend time re-tooling their efforts.