What Are the New Jersey Brimage Guidelines?
In 1998, in State v. Brimage, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered the creation of a set of guidelines governing plea negotiations and mandatory prison sentences for certain drug crimes within the State of New Jersey. These guidelines were brought about in response to the court finding that prosecutors had too much control over the sentencing of offenders in various drug cases, shifting sentencing power from the judiciary to the prosecutors. This often lead to lesser sentences for defendants. The court had the state attorney general set forth general guidelines for these drug cases in order to promote greater uniformity in sentencing and prevent arbitrariness. These guidelines went into effect in May of 1998 and became known as the Brimage Guidelines.
When Do the Brimage Guidelines Apply to a Drug Case?
The Brimage Guidelines apply only to violations of specific drug statutes. The situations in which the guidelines apply include the following:
- Leading a drug trafficking network
- Operating a drug production facility
- Drug offenses committed in a school zone
- Drug distribution to a minor or pregnant female
- Drug offenses committed as a part of street gang activity
- Using a juvenile in drug distribution
- Second or repeat drug convictions – This applies to either possession or distribution charges
The Brimage Guidelines call for mandatory prison time and a period of parole ineligibility. This has dramatically reduced the instances where prosecutors can offer a shorter sentence at the time of sentencing. If you have pled to or have been convicted of an offense that falls under the Brimage Guidelines, the prosecutor of your case will be required to use a worksheet to see what plea offer or sentencing is appropriate. They will also see what parole eligibility terms are pertinent.
School Zone Drug Offense Amendment
On January 12, 2010, the drug statute covering school zone drug offenses (N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7) was amended. This amendment gave judges a particular amount of discretion in certain circumstances to waive or reduce the mandatory term of imprisonment and the mandatory period of parole ineligibility in cases involving school zones. This was done because of the problem of the broad geographic application of school zone offenses. Particularly in densely populated areas, such as cities, most locations are within 1,000 feet of a school. Thus, individuals could get hit with the mandatory minimum sentencing provisions even when their conduct did not directly endanger schools or children.
The conditions which must exist in order to allow judges the ability to waive or reduce mandatory imprisonment and parole ineligibility are detailed in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7b(1). In making this decision, the court will consider the following circumstances:
- The defendant’s criminal record and the seriousness of prior convictions.
- The location of the offense in relation to school property and the likelihood that children would be exposed to drug-related activities at said location.
- Whether school was in session at the time of the offense.
- Whether children were actually present or in the immediate vicinity when the offense happened.
However, if you committed a drug offense on school property or on a school bus, used or threatened violence during the offense or possessed a firearm during the offense, then you will be ineligible for any waiver or reduction at sentencing.
We Can Help You Through NJ Drug Cases Involving Brimage Guidelines
When it comes to cases that fall under Brimage Guidelines, the consequences are always serious. Mandatory prison terms and long periods of parole ineligibility are severe punishments that will impact your life for years to come. If you are facing a charge that falls under these guidelines, it is important to retain the services of experienced criminal defense attorneys. At the law offices of Schneider Freiberger, P.C., we have the expertise to fight these charges and force the prosecution to prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt.