The Sale of Drugs on Public Property Under New Jersey’s Drug Statute
Distribution or possession with the intent to distribute a CDS within 500 feet of a public housing facility, a public park or a public building, can result in a conviction for a second-degree crime, which will require a mandatory prison term of 5 to 10 years. (Public Property Offense). If the substance is less than one ounce of marijuana, however, the offense is a third-degree crime, which can require a maximum term of imprisonment for up to five years. N.J.S.A. 2C: 35-7.1.
Many of the rules applicable under a School Zone Offense are applicable under this section of the drug statute, including the government’s ability to use an approved map to establish distance and one’s inability to claim ignorance as a defense.
Notably, however, while a School Zone Offense requires the government to prove that the school property was used “regularly, consistently and actually”, that rule may not apply to a Public Property Offense. In one case, a person was convicted of a Public Property Offense where he was within 500 feet of a museum that did not have regular hours of operation and was open only by appointment.
An accusation under this part of the drug statute may be defended by showing that there was no intent to derive a profit from the prohibited conduct and that the conduct did not involve a person who was 17-years-of-age. The burden of proving this defense is by a preponderance of the evidence. Thus, one who shares or gives a CDS, like heroin, cocaine or marijuana, to a person who is over 17-years-of-age, may not be convicted of a Public Property Offense. Under these same circumstances, however, there can be a conviction of distribution of a CDS or possession with intent to distribute a CDS, which is covered under another section of the drug statute. Indeed, under most circumstances, you will be charged under both of these sections of the drug statute. If, however, there is a conviction under both sections, there should be a merger of the offenses for sentencing purposes, which will require the trial court to impose the harsher of the penalties authorized by the Public Property Offense statute.
If you are charged with possession of heroin, cocaine or marijuana within 500 feet of public property, the best decision you can make is to immediately hire a criminal attorney with extensive experiences in drug cases. Frank T. Luciano can help you with cases of this type because he has been defending drug cases for over 40 years. He is a lifetime member of NORML.