Criminal Possession Law in New Jersey
Drug and Gun Possession Criminal Defense Lawyers in New Jersey
You’ve heard the scenario many times, or perhaps, it happened to you: you are pulled over by police during a routine motor vehicle stop that led to a search of your car and the people inside. Police find drugs–marijuana, heroin, cocaine, or prescription medication–or a weapon, most often a handgun, or drug paraphernalia. Next thing you know everyone in the car is facing criminal charges for possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS), unlawful possession of a weapon, or a similar offense. You wonder: why did they charge the driver and the passenger(s) in the car with a possession crime regardless of where the illegal item was found in the vehicle? Unbeknownst to many, there are several types of possession recognized under the New Jersey Criminal Code: actual possession and constructive possession. In this article, we will examine criminal possession law in New Jersey and the types of possession that may lead to criminal charges.
Actual possession is rather self-explanatory: it refers to the possession of an object on your physical person. Notably, actual possession can relate to any number of items that may lead to criminal charges, including: possession of a fake ID, a handgun or BB gun, stolen property (ie. a vehicle or a credit card), underage possession of alcohol, or drugs like marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or prescription drugs. New Jersey law states that “A person is in actual possession of an item when he or she first, knows what it is: that is, he or she has knowledge of its character, and second, knowingly has it on his or her person at a given time. For example, if you are found with an illegal item in your pocket, your shoe, your jacket, etc., you may be charged with criminal possession under New Jersey’s actual possession law.
Constructive possession is often the form of possession that gives rise to charges against multiple people in a motor vehicle. The most important thing to know about constructive possession is that you do not need to have the item on your person to be charged with a criminal possession offense. New Jersey law addresses possession under N.J.S.A. 2C:2-1, which states the following:
“To possess an item under the law, one must have a knowing, intentional control of that item accompanied by a knowledge of its character. So, a person who possesses an item such as [a controlled dangerous substance or weapon] must know or be aware that he or she possesses it, and he or she must know what it is that he or she possesses or controls it. Possession cannot merely be a passing control, fleeting or uncertain in its nature. In other words, to possess an item, one must knowingly procure or receive an item or be aware of his or her control thereof for a sufficient period of time to have been able to relinquish his or her control if he or she chose to do so.”
In other words, New Jersey possession law requires that you have knowledge of the existence of an item, an understanding of what the item is, and the ability to exert control over said item. Notably, you can have the ability and intention to exercise control over an item through another person or persons as well. Thus, you can be charged with possessing a drug or weapon if it is found in your car even if it is not directly on your person at the time it is discovered.
New Jersey criminal possession law has an additional component: possession can be sole or joint. If one person alone has actual or constructive possession of an item, possession is sole. If two or more persons share actual or constructive knowing possession of an item, possession is joint. In other words, if you are alone in your vehicle and a gun is found in the glove compartment, you are in sole constructive possession. If the gun is in your pocket, you are in sole actual possession. On the other hand, if you are in a car with five other people and drugs are found, all five of you can be charged with joint constructive possession.
Defending Criminal Possession Charges in New Jersey
At The Tormey Law Firm, our highly skilled New Jersey criminal defense lawyers have extensive knowledge of New Jersey law regarding possession in criminal prosecutions. With a practice that concentrates entirely on criminal and DWI defense, we remain at the forefront of current case law and develop the most effective defense strategies to beat possession charges against our clients. With offices in Hackensack, Morristown, Newark, New Brunswick, and Middletown, we aggressively defend clients in courts across New Jersey, including in Bergen County, Morris County, Essex County, Monmouth County, and Camden County. If you have been charged with possession of CDS, drug paraphernalia, unlawful possession of a weapon, or another possession crime in New Jersey, contact us today at (201)-556-1570 for a free consultation about your case.