Although New Jersey law still imposes strict penalties for drug possession, the trend over the past few decades has been towards rehabilitation rather than punishment. This article will briefly examine the current possible consequences of a possession conviction, and then move on to describe the drug court’s role in defendant rehabilitation.
As explained on FindLaw, there are three categories of offenses for drug possession convictions. In ascending order of severity, they are:
- Disorderly persons offense
- Fourth-degree crime
- Third-degree crime
Each category of crime in the state has a different set of maximum — and sometimes minimum — penalties. Due to the range in degrees, possible consequences vary considerably. For example, possession of a hashish pipe could lead to six months in prison and a $1000 fine, whereas any amount of cocaine possession could result in 3 to 5 years in prison and up to $35,000.
Even the most lenient penalties may seem strict for the offense involved — a fact that has not gone unnoticed by state lawmakers and judges. The pressure of these convictions on prison systems led to the development of another option: drug court. As mentioned on the New Jersey Courts website, the mission of the drug courts is to rehabilitate defendants while resolving the drug charges related to their chemical dependencies.
To defendants, participation often means a chance both to overcome health problems and to stay out of jail. However, not every defendant is enthusiastic about joining the program, and some even deny that they have drug problems to begin with. As a result, the drug court program is now mandatory for individuals that meet certain criteria.