I have never been arrested before. I was searched at the scene. I am afraid of losing my job as a school teacher. What are my options?
You can most definitely lose your teaching job from drug charges.
It is a fact that a public school teacher will most likely lose this employment position if they are convicted of a crime or criminal offense. Obviously, there are exceptions to this general rule. The bottom line is that a school teacher cannot afford a conviction for possession of marijuana under 50 grams.
There are may options for an individual charged with N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10(a)(4) in New Jersey. This statute makes illegal possession of marijuana under 50 grams. The jurisdiction of this offense is in municipal court and it is graded as a disorderly persons offense. The practical penalties are a fine of up to one thousand dollars, jail of up to 180 days, and a driver’s license suspension for six months to two years.
By definition, a person who has never been previously arrested has no criminal record. Therefore, a person charged possession of under 50 grams of marijuana is eligible for a conditional discharge, which is set forth at N.J.S.A. 2C:36A-1. All individuals who have no prior involvement with criminal justice are eligible to apply for a conditional discharge in such a circumstance. If the request for a conditional discharge is granted by the court, it will result in an unsupervised form of probation from six months to three years.
In the event that the person does not violate the terms of the conditional discharge period, the municipal court will dismiss the original possession of marijuana under 50 grams complaint. Also, the individual who satisfactorily completed the conditional discharge can then file a petition to expunge the fact of the conditional discharge after six months has passed from the completion of same.
A conditional discharge can be granted with or without a guilty plea. This is important. In most cases, the conditional discharge is granted by a municipal court without a guilty plea. However, the conditional discharge statute does permit the granting of a conditional discharge with a guilty plea. As state, this is a notable distinction. In the event that a defendant violates a conditional discharge without first having entering a guilty plea, his matter is merely returned to the docket of the municipal court for disposition.
In plain language, this means that the defendant’s case reverts to its prior status before the conditional discharge was granted. By contrast, a conditional discharge granted with a guilty plea that results in a violation allows the municipal court to merely impose sentence on the original drug charge. Consequently, it is important that the criminal defense attorney oppose a prosecutor’s or a court’s request for a guilty plea in connection with an application for a conditional discharge.
The driver’s license suspension of six months to two years pursuant to a conditional discharge can be waived by the municipal court judge. The statutory language states that the court must find “compelling circumstances warranting an exception.” The practical reality of most conditional discharge applications in New Jersey is that no defendant loses their driving privileges upon acceptance. There are very few exceptions to this general rule.
However, the actual question presented requires the criminal defense attorney to investigate all defenses to the drug charge before recommending that his client request a conditional discharge. In most cases, the defense to a drug charge is constitutionally based on Search and Seizure issues. The constitutional exceptions are set forth in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Paragraph 7 in New Jersey’s Constitution.
The diligent criminal defense attorney is going to look carefully at his client’s fact pattern to determine if there were Search and Seizure violations regarding the manner in which the police arrested the defendant. This cannot be emphasized enough. An individual charged with possession of marijuana under 50 grams can only receive a conditional discharge on one occasion. In every respect, it is the defendant’s ‘one free bite at the apple.’
Moreover, a person who receives a conditional discharge is not eligible for pre-trial intervention in a Superior Court criminal matter. To reiterate, an individual charge with a crime or criminal offense in New Jersey without a prior conviction can only receive one conditional discharge or pre-trial intervention. Not both. As a result, such an individual should only avail themselves of a conditional discharge if there are no viable defenses to the drug charge.
If you have been arrested for possession of marijuana, give attorney Matthew Reisig a call at 732-625-9661.