Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance vs. Possession of CDS in a Motor Vehicle in New Jersey

Frequently in New Jersey, routine traffic stops turn into serious drug charges for drivers who are simply going about their regular lives. Perhaps the officer says you were speeding, made an illegal turn, failed to signal, or committed another traffic infraction, but their suspicion provokes further investigation. If you consent to a search of your vehicle, or the officer obtains a search warrant for the car, he or she may discover marijuana, heroin, cocaine, prescription drugs, or another controlled dangerous substance. When these incidents do occur, you may face multiple charges, the most common of which are possession of a controlled dangerous substance (CDS) and possession of CDS in a motor vehicle. Although these charges may appear similar, they are, in fact, significantly distinct, spelling very different consequences if you are ultimately found guilty.

Possession of a controlled dangerous substance (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10) is classified as a criminal offense, the grading of which is contingent upon the substance involved and the amount of said substance. For example, possession of marijuana under 50 grams is a disorderly persons offense, punishable by a sentence to serve up to 6 months in the county jail, as well as a fine of up to $1,000. Possession of heroin and cocaine are considered more serious crimes and are typically classified as third-degree indictable felonies, which are punishable by a sentence to serve between 3 and 5 years in New Jersey State Prison, a fine of up to $35,000, and a mandatory 6-month suspension of your driving privileges. Although the degree of these charges may vary, possession of CDS is a criminal offense, meaning a conviction will result in a charge on your criminal record, which will appear on a background check and may hinder your ability to pursue certain employment or other opportunities in the future.

On the other hand, possession of CDS in a motor vehicle (N.J.S.A. 2C:39:4-49.1) is a separate charge and is considered a traffic violation. This means that a conviction will appear on your driver’s abstract with the Division of Motor Vehicles, but will not appear on a criminal background check. However, this does not diminish the serious penalties associated with a conviction for this offense under New Jersey law. In fact, those convicted of possession of CDS in a motor vehicle are subject to a MANDATORY 2-year driver’s license suspension, which can significantly impact your life and your future.

In many cases, a driver is charged with both possession of a controlled dangerous substance and possession of CDS in a motor vehicle, leaving them exposed to both the criminal and motor vehicle penalties associated with these offenses. When representing my clients, an outright dismissal is always the goal, whether that requires challenging probable cause for the motor vehicle stop itself, the search that followed, or another issue that may provide grounds for dismissal.

If this is not achievable, a desirable alternative is to have the motor vehicle CDS charge dropped and to facilitate enrollment in a diversionary program such as conditional discharge or Pre-Trial Intervention, depending on the degree of the criminal drug charges. These programs allow a defendant to comply with certain requirements such as random drug testing during a probationary period, after which the charges are dismissed. In these cases, you can avoid the 2-year license suspension as well as a conviction on your criminal record.

If you are facing a similar predicament in New Jersey, contact my offices at 908-481-4625 for additional information. I am always available to provide you with a consultation.