21 Sep 23

NJ Possessing, Distributing, or Selling Drugs in a School Zone

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Last Updated on: 25th September 2023, 06:34 pm

Possessing, Distributing, or Selling Drugs in a School Zone in New Jersey

Getting busted with drugs anywhere is scary, but it’s especially frightening if it happens near a school in New Jersey. The state has super strict laws about drugs in school zones, and charges are taken very seriously by prosecutors and judges. Penalties are harsh, but there are ways to fight the charges with an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side. This article provides an overview of school zone drug laws, potential defenses, and what to expect if facing charges in NJ.

New Jersey’s School Zone Drug Laws

New Jersey’s school zone drug law is set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. Under this statute, drug charges are elevated if the offense occurred within 1,000 feet of any school property. The 1,000 foot boundary applies to all elementary, vocational, and secondary schools, including colleges and universities. The drug-free zone also covers school buses and areas within 100 feet of a school bus stop.[1]

Simply being in possession of drugs in a school zone bumps the charges up one degree. Selling or distributing drugs in a school zone can increase penalties even more significantly. Just a few examples:

  • Possession of cocaine goes from a 3rd degree to a 2nd degree crime
  • Possession with intent to distribute marijuana goes from a 4th degree to a 3rd degree crime
  • Selling heroin, cocaine, meth, etc. goes from a 1st degree to a mandatory extended term sentence

Penalties for school zone drug offenses include lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences and major fines. Even first-time offenders can face 5-10 years behind bars.[2]

Defenses Against School Zone Drug Charges

Even though the penalties are severe, there are defenses that can be used to fight school zone drug charges in New Jersey:

  • Invalid Search – If police didn’t have probable cause for the search, evidence may be suppressed.
  • Outside School Zone – You may argue the offense did not actually occur within 1,000 feet of a school.
  • No Intent to Distribute – Prosecutors must prove you intended to sell or distribute the drugs.
  • Wrongful Accusations – The drugs may have belonged to someone else entirely.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can evaluate the details of your case to determine the best defense strategy. Having an aggressive advocate on your side can make all the difference.

Penalties for School Zone Drug Crimes

Below is an overview of the common penalties for school zone drug offenses in New Jersey:

  • Jail Time – Lengthy mandatory minimum prison sentences, even for first-time offenders.
  • Fines – Up to $150,000 in fines per offense.
  • Probation – 1-5 years of supervised probation after release.
  • License Suspension – 6 months to 2 years driver’s license suspension.
  • Drug Counseling – Mandatory drug abuse counseling or treatment.
  • Community Service – 100-150 hours of court-ordered community service.

Penalties go up sharply for repeat offenders. Jail time also increases dramatically when weight thresholds for drug possession are exceeded. Having an attorney negotiate for reduced charges can help minimize penalties.[3]

What to Expect If Charged

Being charged with a school zone drug offense can be an overwhelming experience. Here’s a basic overview of the process:

  1. You will be arrested, booked, and held until seeing a judge for bail.
  2. Hire a defense lawyer immediately to start working on your case.
  3. A judge will be assigned and you’ll enter a plea at your arraignment hearing.
  4. Your lawyer will file motions and begin building defenses.
  5. The prosecution provides evidence during the discovery phase.
  6. Your lawyer may negotiate with the prosecutor for reduced charges.
  7. If no plea deal reached, your case will go to trial.

Having an experienced criminal lawyer in your corner is critical from day one. Do not say anything to police without your lawyer present, as it can only hurt your case.[4]

Finding the Right Lawyer

Facing school zone drug charges in New Jersey is scary. The penalties are severe, and having the right lawyer is crucial. When choosing a lawyer, look for these key traits:

  • Extensive experience with New Jersey drug crime cases
  • In-depth knowledge of state drug laws and sentencing guidelines
  • Track record of favorable case results
  • Willingness to take cases to trial if needed
  • Strong negotiation skills for plea bargaining
  • Clear communication and responsiveness

Be sure to understand the lawyer’s fees and get a signed agreement. Look for someone who instills confidence they will fight aggressively on your behalf.[5]

Alternative Resolutions

Rather than risk a lengthy prison sentence if convicted at trial, some alternatives may be available, such as:

  • Plea Deal – Plead guilty to reduced charges in exchange for a lighter sentence.
  • Diversion Program – Complete rehab and get charges dropped.
  • ARD – Charges dismissed after successful probation term.

These options still require admitting guilt. Your lawyer will advise if worthwhile compared to potential penalties after trial. The goal is minimizing damages as much as possible.[6]

Consequences of a Conviction

If convicted of a school zone drug offense, consequences will extend for years beyond any jail sentence, including:

  • Permanent criminal record
  • Barriers to employment and professional licensing
  • Potential loss of student aid and public housing
  • Deportation for non-citizens
  • Years of parole/probation
  • Ongoing legal fees and court costs

Also, a felony conviction results in permanent loss of voting rights in New Jersey. These collateral consequences demonstrate why an aggressive legal defense is so important.[6]

Fighting the Charges

Once you’ve hired a lawyer, they will start building defenses to try getting charges reduced or dismissed. Efforts may include:

  • Filing motions to suppress illegally obtained evidence
  • Investigating whether the offense occurred within 1,000 feet of a school
  • Negotiating with the prosecutor for plea bargain options
  • Identifying weaknesses in the prosecution’s case
  • Submitting character letters from teachers, employers, etc.
  • Presenting mitigating circumstances to the court

An experienced lawyer leaves no stone unturned in defending you and avoiding the worst penalties. They will aggressively challenge the prosecution’s claims every step of the way.

Getting Your Life Back

Being charged with a school zone drug offense can feel devastating, but try to stay positive. With an experienced criminal defense lawyer advising you, many people are able to get charges reduced or even dismissed. It starts with hiring counsel immediately after an arrest.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Be polite and compliant during your arrest, but don’t answer police questions.
  • Follow your lawyer’s advice precisely to avoid missteps.
  • Stick to all conditions of your release while out on bail.
  • Stay clean and avoid re-arrest at all costs.
  • Lean on family and friends for emotional support.

While terrifying at first, remember this is only temporary. Your life isn’t over. With smart legal moves, you can get past this and move forward. It starts with having an experienced lawyer fight aggressively on your behalf.


  1. Selling Drugs on or Near School Grounds in New Jersey – N.J.S.A 2C:35-7
  2. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7. Distribution or Possession of Controlled Dangerous Substances in a School Zone
  3. Possession with Intent to Distribute N.J.S.A 2c35-5(6)
  4. Intent to Distribute in NJ School Zone Lawyer
  5. State Regulations of Private Schools (PDF)
  6. New Jersey School Zone Drug Charge Attorney