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Defending Drug Charges in a NJ School Zone

school playground sign

In New Jersey, any crime related to illegal drugs can be serious, but if that crime is committed on or near a school zone, the problems that a defendant faces can be exponentially worse.
The law, under statute N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7, says that a person is guilty of a crime if he or she distributes, dispenses or possesses with the intent to distribute a controlled substance while meeting the following conditions:

  • On a school property that is used for educational purposes
  • Occurs within 1,000 feet of school property
  • Occurs on any school bus

The charge of possessing CDS without the intent to distribute or dispense the drugs is different from a charge under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. Therefore, one can be charged under both laws and face added penalties.

Violating the New Jersey School Zone Law

In order to achieve a conviction for a drug related crime within a school zone, it must fall into one or more of the above categories. The law states that if the accused is judged to have possessed with the intent to distribute a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) while on a school property, on a property that is used for school purposes owned by an elementary school, middle school, high school or school board, or while on any other property (public or private) that is within 1,000 feet of any school property or while on a school bus, he or she will be guilty of a third degree crime and sentenced to imprisonment. A conviction for a drug charge within a school zone can also mean fines of up to $150,000.
In order to convict the defendant, the prosecutor has to prove that the drugs were possessed with the intention to distribute or actually distributed or sold. Then it must be proven that the defendant was on school grounds, within 1,000 feet of school grounds, or on a school bus. The prosecution must also present a school zone map to establish that the crime occurred within the required vicinity to validate a charge of violating the school zone law. The map must have been approved by ordinance or resolution of a municipal or county governing body as a drug free zone.

Lack of Knowledge of School Zone Isn't a Defense

If the defendant was unaware that he or she was within the confines of what constitutes a school zone, it is irrelevant to the charge and the person will be charged with the crime regardless if they are aware that the activity was taking place in a school zone or within 1,000 feet of a school zone.

Punishment and Parole for Violating the NJ School Zone Law

This charge has very serious consequences. If the offense is in the first degree, the defendant is subject to a term in prison of 10-20 years. The second degree conviction calls for 5-10 years in prison. The third degree can lead to up to 5 years of incarceration. In addition, a defendant faces up to $150,000 in fines for this crime. A person convicted of violating the New Jersey school zone law, the minimum amount of time that must be served is between one-third and one-half of the sentence or three years—whichever is the greater amount of time.
Certain factors can be considered when the judge is sentencing the defendant for a school zone drug conviction. If there were children present at the time and whether the defendant has a prior record are things a judge will consider when deciding on the defendant's penalties and eligibility for parole. The chance at a waiver of incarceration is lessened if the defendant possessed a firearm or threatened violence, nor if there was a prior conviction for possession with the intent to distribute or drug distribution.

Contact a Lawyer to Defend Your School Zone Drug Charge

If you or a loved one have been charged with violating the New Jersey school zone law, you have rights. There may be methods to limit the damage done by the litany of charges that can accrue for the prosecution of drug possession on or near school grounds.
The law firm of Villani & DeLuca in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey is experienced with all aspects of New Jersey law and can assist you in your time of need. If you were charged with a drug crime related to the New Jersey school zone law in Monmouth County or Ocean County, you should contact the attorneys at Villani & DeLuca to discuss your case.  Free initial consultations are offered to all new clients.

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