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Articles Posted in Drug Crime

The New Jersey Municipal Court will start to slowly reopen for business on May 11, 2020. The Courts will be conducting a limited amount of appearances for those matters that can potentially be resolved via phone and video conference. The amount and types of cases that the courts will hear will be determined by the individuals court’s technological abilities. This means that some courts may resolve many cases and some may resolve none.

Regardless, over the course of the last few weeks, in anticipation of this, I have received calls from several prosecutors from several different municipal courts, including Union, East Brunswick, Palisades Interstate Court, and Elizabeth, to name a few. These negotiations over the phone have really paid off and I was able to negotiate some very good plea agreements for my clients. The charges included traffic matters, such as driving without insurance, speeding, driving while suspended or revoked, careless driving with an accident and without and leaving the scene of an accident. Additionally, I was able to resolve a few criminal cases too involving possession of marijuana under 50 grams of and possession of CDS in a motor vehicle.

Superior Courts have been ahead of the municipal courts in having virtual court sessions. The more serious drug cases and crimes are at the Superior Court level and I have been doing a good amount of virtual court appearances over the last month.

I was contacted by several municipal prosecutors this work asking if we could work out some of my existing client’s cases by something called a plea by affidavit. This mechanism is typically only used for out of state residents or those who do not have the ability to come to court. As part of a plea by affidavit, there would typically be a requirements that the defendant provide reasons in a certification about why it would be a hardship for that person to come to court.

Obviously, given the covid 19 outbreak, Courts are not requiring such a thing for some matters. Most of the calls that I received were for traffic related offenses other than DWI. However, I suspect that in the coming weeks there will a push to resolve existing municipal court matters, including disorderly persons offenses (simple assault, marijuana possession, shoplifting,etc.) through a plea by affidavit. Otherwise the backlog of cases could get out of hand for the municipal court.

That being said, I think that there is a great opportunity for many of these cases to resolve very favorably for my clients and I will continue to push for this sort of resolution. In addition, just because the courts are closed does not mead that the police have stopped working. Over the course of the last few weeks, I have seen many DWI, domestic violence, shoplifting, harassment and drug arrest, just to name a few. I have been consulting with new and existing clients. I have been communicating with police records on my new cases and police records in many jurisdictions is providing discovery which give me the ability to work towards a resolution of the case.

The answer is it depends. The municipal courts are not holding court sessions. Municipal courts are responsible for traffic violations including DWI and disorderly persons criminal offenses (misdemeanors). They are issuing future court dates but are also trying to set up virtual court to expedite those dates. If you have a traffic charge or disorderly persons criminal offense violation like possession of less than 50 grams of marijuana or DWI, then your court date may be a few months out, but it will not go away. It is still important to address it sooner rather than later and begin the process. Police records are still producing discovery and all other documents and I expect that that courts will expecting litigants to be at least somewhat prepared to go. I think those that are ready, and willing to proceed early on when sessions resume may get favorable deals, since they will not be contributing to the municipal court backlog.

Superior Court, Criminal Division, is quickly making progress with virtual court via video. These courts are responsible for more serious offenses called indictable offenses. Indictable offenses are also called felony offenses. First, Second, Third and Fourth degree indictable offenses are the responsibility of the Superior Court. Drug possession and distribution charges for heroin, cocaine, prescription pills, theft and shop lifting over $500, aggravated assault, weapons and guns charges, eluding the police, robbery, terroristic threats, sex assault, etc. are a few examples of these types of offenses.   I personally handled three matters this week via video court, 2 in Union County and one in Morris. It was actually pretty seamless.  I think that as the weeks progress, we will see a marked increase in the number of cases handles by the courts and the timelines moving up considerably. Likewise, I think in the interim, there will be a good opportunity to resolve cases favorably. The reason I say this is because I believe that the courts do not want to put people in jail right now. They want a reason to not put them in jail.

I think that I have a window to get really good results if I can get cases hear. For example, I had a client who was facing two First Degree count of robbery, with a bad prior record, looking at an extended term, possibly 30 years. I was able to get him a 5 flat sentence and kept him eligible for ISP, intensive supervision program. He already had 8 months in, he will likely be out as soon as he gets in. I highly doubt this would have happened two weeks ago.

Informants Privilege Under the New Jersey Rules of Evidence

In New Jersey, law enforcement routinely relies on informants in assisting narcotics investigations and drug prosecutions. In another article entitled New Jersey Discovery Rules for Cooperating Witness/Confidential Informant in Drug Cases we outlined what is discoverable information in a criminal case that involves police use of a cooperating witness. In addition to the limitations discussed in the previous article, specifically that defense may not be able to obtain use of cooperating witness in drug prosecutions not related to prosecution presently before the court, there is another limitation known as the “informants privilege.”

The informants privilege, contained in New Jersey Rules of Evidence 516, permits the State of New Jersey to refuse to disclose the identity of a confidential informant, unless certain information is presented to the court. Defense must show either that the identity of the informant has already been disclosed or that disclosure of the identity of the informant “is essential to assure fair determination of the issues.” What constitutes a “fair determination of the issues” was discussed in State v. Milligan.

New Jersey law enforcement routinely rely on cooperating witnesses or confidential informants in making drug arrests. In a recent example, a man was arrested in Sussex, NJ on September 2016 and charged with various drug related offenses under the New Jersey Criminal Code. The charges included first-degree possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(3), second-degree possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine and heroin, and third degree possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine.

The police relied on a cooperating witness from the Sussex County Narcotics Task Force to make the arrest. The cooperating witness purchased from the defendant and the task force also made controlled buys of cocaine.

When the state uses cooperating witnesses in a drug sting operation a defendant has a right to discovery of certain information relating to the cooperating witness. Discovery Rule 3:13-3(b) generally requires that the State provide all evidence relevant to the defense of criminal charges. Rule 3:13(b) states that discovery “shall include all exculpatory information and relevant material.” Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to prove or disprove a fact of consequence in the determination of the action. In a recently decided New Jersey Supreme Court case, State v. Hernandez, the court held that the States discovery obligations extend to providing material evidence affecting the credibility of the States cooperating witness. State v. Hernandez, 225 N.J. 451, (N.J. 2016).

Intent to Distribute HeroinPolice in Hunterdon County recently arrested two men for alleged drug distribution after a joint undercover investigation found the suspects with 130 decks of heroin, according to NJ.com.

Investigators said that the men were arrested while at their workplace in Bloomsbury and charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute and conspiracy to distribute. Both were taken to the county jail under bail of $15,000 each.

Possession and distribution of a dangerous controlled substance is a serious crime in the state of New Jersey and may result in devastating consequences in the event of a conviction.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), prescription drugs, such as pain killers, psychotropic medications, and opiates, have become one of the most abused controlled substances in the country. Many people wrongly assume that if a medical professional has prescribed a drug, it is not addictive or harmful. However, anyone can become addicted to a prescription drug and legitimate use can quickly become illegal once a person runs out of a valid prescription.

Under New Jersey criminal statute 2C:35-10.5, it is illegal for an individual to possess, distribute, or use a drug or medication that has not been prescribed by a licensed practitioner.

Therefore, prescription drug-related crimes may include the following:

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