I represented a client yesterday in Parsippany Municipal Court who was charged with possession of marijuana, under 50 grams, a disorderly persons offense. It is illegal for the State to plea bargain marijuana offenses in New Jersey. This means that, basically, the prosecutor is prohibited from amending or downgrading a marijuana offense. However, this does not mean that there is no defense to marijuana offenses in New Jersey. There are several tactics an experienced criminal defense attorney can use to attack the State’s case and potentially have the charges dismissed. The first is based on an illegal search. Many minor marijuana offenses are based on a traffic stop. If there is not probable cause for the original traffic stop, than any subsequently seized evidence is illegal and inadmissible based on the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine. Moreover, if the search was conducted without a warrant and the search does not satisfy any of the exceptions to the warrant requirement (such as plain view or consent) then the search was not proper and the illegally seized evidence can be suppressed. Next, a marijuana charge can be challenged based on an issue with the chain of custody. The police officers must sign the evidence (in this case marijuana) into the evidence room at the station at the time of processing. The police officers must then again sign the evidence out of the station when the marijuana is sent to the State police lab for testing. If the State fails to provide these evidence receipts and chain of custody documents, these are grounds for the marijuana charges to be dismissed. Finally, in the above case, the State failed to provide the lab report showing that the seized evidence was in fact marijuana. After several appearances in court and adjournments (postponements) granted to the State to allow them to provide the lab report, I made a motion to dismiss the charges based on the State’s inability to prove possession of marijuana and the failure to provide the discovery evidence (the missing lab report). The motion was granted and the charges were dismissed against my client.
Remember, even if none of these above tactics are successful in having the charges dismissed, you may be eligible for the conditional discharge program. If accepted into the program, the charges will be dismissed upon the successful completion of probation. For additional information, please contact my office anytime for a free initial consultation at (973)971-0030.