Penalties in New Jersey involving cocaine (and other drugs) are enhanced when the offense occurs within a school zone. New Jersey defines school zone as any school property used for school purposes. The property must be owned by or leased to an elementary or secondary school, or school board. It also encompasses areas within 1,000 feet of those properties. Additionally, school zone includes any area within 1,000 feet of a school bus. These provisions are contained in N.J.S. 2C:35-7.
Persons convicted of third degree offenses involving cocaine, including even distribution of cocaine in New Jersey, are often able to avoid a prison sentence. But distribution of cocaine in a school zone is, itself, a separate third degree offense. In such situations, a sentence to state prison becomes very likely. In conjunction with that imprisonment, and as originally enacted, the judge was required to specify a period before the convicted person can be released on parole. That period was to be a minimum of one-third of the total sentence, or three years, whichever is greater. These periods of imprisonment and parole ineligibility would apply equally to New Jersey convictions for possession with intent to distribute, even when no actual distribution ever occurred. Further, the intent to distribute, itself, need not have been in a school zone. These enhanced penalties would apply so long as it was within the school zone that the possession with intent occurred.
N.J.S. 2C:35-7 also specifies certain factors that cannot be used as defenses. It is no defense that school was not actually in session. It is no defense that no children were the area. It is no defense that the person did not know that he was in a school zone. And these penalties apply even in the situation where the arrest results from a motor vehicle stop that happened to be inside the 1,000 foot boundry.
The requirements just stated began with the New Jersey Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987. Those requirements remained inflexible for many years. They were relaxed somewhat in 2009. This relaxation allows the judge under some circumstances to lower the period of parole ineligibility. The judge can even sentence the defendant to probation, with no imprisonment at all. Here are factors that that judge can consider:
- The defendant's prior criminal history
- The seriousness of the offense for which the defendant was convicted
- Whether school was in session at the time of the offense
- Whether children were in the immediate area
- How far the offense was from the school or school property itself
Allan Marain and Norman Epting, Jr. are New Jersey cocaine lawyers. They have been successfully representing clients on school zone drug cases since the law was first enacted in 1987. Exposure upon conviction for all drug crimes is incredibly severe. Competent legal assistance such as the Law Offices of Allan Marain provides can make all the difference in the world. You owe it to yourself to discuss your situation with them when facing charges such as these. They are available to discuss your situation in a no-charge no-obligation office conference. Call them!
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