Criminal Charges for Loitering or Wandering in a Drug Zone

Can you be charged with an offense for something that you technically have not done? That can certainly be the case for offenses involving loitering or wandering in a drug zone, technically referred to as Loitering to Obtain or Distribute CDS, in New Jersey. Loitering refers to a person hanging around a public place. Wandering, on the other hand, refers to a person roaming around with no purpose. It is interesting how by definition the term wandering means not having a purpose, but in the context of the statutory authority for wandering or loitering in a drug zone, an individual is found to wander or meander in a public space with the purpose to acquire or disseminate drugs.

Despite this unique play on the word: purpose, an individual facing an offense contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C: 33-2.1 is being charged with having purpose or intent to commit an offense in a location with increased drug activity.

What is Required to Prove a 2C: 33-2.1 Loitering Charge

If we go back to the original question for a moment, how can you be charged with an offense for something that you have not done? With this type of offense, the circumstances of the underlying incident and the purpose to buy or sell drugs is enough for someone to fall as a perpetrator of this wrongdoing. The statute defines behaviors where the element of purpose can be found. For example, let’s say that you frequent a park weekly and just hang around there for a few hours between 11:00pm and 2:00am. During that time you engage in behavior by walking up to individuals who are also in the park or you walk up to motor vehicles driving through the park. This conduct could be used to prove that you engaged in the type of behavior in accordance with a violation of this statute. However, in order to be found guilty of this offense, a person must have remained or wandered in a public place, with the purpose to distribute or maintain drugs while actively engaging in conduct that demonstrates purpose. To understand the concept of manifesting a purpose, the case State v. Kazanes shows how an officer witnessed a drug transaction being purposeful. In this case, despite the element of wandering not properly being met, the element of purpose was evident because of the drug packaging and the residue of the drug on the defendant’s mouth after swallowing the evidence. Thus, the underlying circumstances represent the sale and/or purchase of the drugs that would indicate the element of purpose under this statute.

A Prosecutor may refer to tangible items to prove that you were wandering or meandering in a public space with the purpose to buy or sell drugs. These items may include having a lot of cash on one’s person, or even drugs/drug paraphernalia with you at the time of the arrest. As a whole, the circumstances surrounding the underlying event are used to determine whether there is enough evidence involved to give rise to a charge of this nature. Accordingly, the circumstances surrounding your case are extremely important.

Disorderly Persons Loitering, Wandering Drug Offense Penalties in NJ

If you are charged with an offense of this nature, then you are facing disorderly persons charges. Although disorderly persons offenses are the lowest level criminal offenses in New Jersey, it is still something you do not want on your record. For this offense alone, an individual may be subjected up to six months in jail and up to $1000 fine.

Moreover, you may also have additional charges corresponding with your loitering in a drug zone offense. Particularly, you may be looking at drug possession or distribution charges, drug paraphernalia charges and more. In fact, depending on the type of offense you can be facing multiple felony offenses. These additional charges will carry significant penalties, fines and serious prison time. Just distribution of CDS alone can give you a minimum five-year ticket to prison and then depending on the amount on you can bring you to potentially 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands worth of fines.

How can a loitering in a drug zone charge merge with a distributing or possession with intent to distribute CDS charge?

If you are found actively engaged in purposeful activity that would indicate the buying and selling of drugs, such as frequently approaching drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and passing something to each of them, and once approached by police you are found with drugs and the other party has a large sum of cash, you have met the elements of the loitering offense but also distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. The type of punishments for the distribution offense will vary depending on the type of drug(s), the quantity of the drug(s), and location of the transaction. Police can establish the probable cause element of charging you with this offense through using informants, undercover officers or even by witnessing the transaction to establish that you intended the sale of a controlled dangerous substance. Again, the underlying surrounding circumstances will be used for an officer to charge you with a crime. This may also mean that circumstantial evidence will be sufficient to charge you with one or more of the above crimes.

What is circumstantial evidence for a criminal case?

Circumstantial evidence means that one could infer based on mere circumstances alone that a person committed a crime. In other words, it can be referred to as evidence to prove a fact or truth asserted. In criminal law case this may mean that a witness did not see the defendant stab a person, but saw blood on his or her hands and a bloody knife at the defendant’s home. In the earlier examples, it may be the drug residue, a lot of money or packages used to place the drugs in.

In law school, a simple example of this principle is in torts, or personal injury cases, to establish negligence through the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. When someone slips and falls on a banana peel in a grocery store, the condition of the peel itself can be used to prove negligence by looking at the color of the banana peel. The color indicates how long it has been on the floor in showing the store was negligent in the upkeep of the area. This can be considered circumstantial evidence because you do not need direct evidence to prove the wrong based on the color of the peel alone, indicating it had been on the floor for a long time. Of course, this would have to be the color at the time of the fall, not hours later.

How to Handle Loitering Drug Charges in Morris County and throughout New Jersey

Are you facing loitering in a drug zone charges or more drug crimes? Do you think your case is ground on consequential evidence at best? Contact a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney now for a complimentary consultation to discuss your case, to see what options are available to you and find out if and how you can avoid jail or prison time through defense arguments, diversionary programs, downgrading the charges, and other strategies.