Q & A: First-Time Drug Offenders in NJ

Q: Are the Penalties Less Severe for a First-Time Drug Offender?

A: No. The penalties you face remain the same regardless of whether it was you first offense or not. However, we have found that NJ judges tend to be more lenient toward a first-time offender, especially one who is remorseful. 

Q: Will I Face Jail Time if it was My First Drug Offense?

A: You might. Although New Jersey tends to favor rehabilitative measures instead of harsh punishments when it comes to first-time drug offenders, judges have put offenders behind bars for their first offense. However, the likelihood of being put in prison for your first drug offense in NJ severely decreases if you hire an experienced  criminal defense attorney. An attorney will know what to do in order for you to avoid the criminal process altogether, truly make use of your constitutional rights, and have you gain admission into a diversionary program so you can avoid serving jail time.

Q: What is a Diversionary Program?

A: A diversionary program allows for a first-time offender who does not have a prior criminal record avoid imprisonment.New Jersey has two different types of diversionary programs: Pre-Trial Intervention and Conditional Discharge. These programs are designed to rehabilitate and prevent you from engaging in further crimes in the future. If you meet the criteria for placement into a diversionary program and adhere to all of its requirements while in the program, upon your completion the offense will be removed from your record.

Q: What is Pre-Trial Intervention (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12)?

A: PTI is a diversionary program that attempts to break the cycle of drug use through rehabilitative means. Usually, it involves placement into a facility for 1-3 years. In order to be admitted to NJ’s Pre-Trial Intervention program, you must:

  • Have been charged with an indictable offense
  • Be a first-time offender
  • Have not gone through PTI before
  • Have not been granted a conditional discharge

If you are accepted, you will be given care by therapists, drug counseling, and sometimes employment training. While some view PTI as a burden, most understand that it is a far better alternative to serving even a single day behind bars. Moreover, upon successful completion of PTI, the offense is wiped from your record. It is important to note that failing to abide by the requirements of the program or failing to complete the program will mean that the offense will not be removed from your record and you may face both a fine and prison time.

In other words, if you are given an opportunity to go to PTI, take it and be sure to follow the program’s rules!

Q: How Can a Conditional Discharge Help Me (N.J.S.A. 2C:36A)?

A: A conditional discharge (sometimes called a Chapter 36A) is a diversionary program for first-time offenders who are convicted of minor drug offenses. Many times, juvenile offenders take advantage of this option. The program requires you to be drug-free and offense-free for 6 months to 1 year while being on probation. However, if you do this and successfully adhere to the programs guidelines, your offense will be expunged from your record. Remember, it is not that easy to obtain a conditional discharge and granting them are within the exclusive discretion of the judge hearing your case. Thus, if you get one, count your blessings and follow the program to the letter.

Q: Should I Really Hire an Attorney if it is My First Drug Offense?

A: Yes! Even if it is your first drug offense, it is crucial to hire a NJ criminal defense attorney who can help you make use of your legal rights to the fullest extent possible while ensuring that your minor indiscretion does not turn into a major, long-term problem.