What Is Considered Drug Distribution in a Public Park or Housing?
In New Jersey, public parks and housing projects have a special drug distribution statute governing the severity of the penalties that can be levied against an individual charged with possession with intent to distribute or actual distribution. This statute, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1, is similar to the law regarding CDS possession and distribution in a school zone, due to the likelihood of children being present within these areas. This law applies to any area within 500 feet of a public park, housing project or public building. These are usually charged as second degree offenses, and therefore the consequences of a conviction are serious.
Public Park or Housing Defined
It is important to know what exactly constitutes a public park, public building or a public housing project as far as the law is concerned. They are defined as follows:
- Public Park – Any park, recreation facility or area or playground under the ownership or control of a state, county or local government unit.
- Public Housing – A dwelling, dwelling complex or facility that is owned or leased by a housing authority for low income residence.
- Public Building – Any publicly owned museum or library.
In order to prove that you were distributing or has the intention to distribute in a public park or housing zone, the prosecution will have to produce a map approved by the municipality that shows that your location was within 500 feet of the designated zone. It does not matter if you were only within the zone do to a police stop or an undercover buy. Stashing the drugs outside the zone also will not save you if you are in the park or project, as you will be arrested under the rationale of constructive possession.
Generally, the defense will come down to arguing that the conduct did not occur within the zone, there was no actual intention to distribute or that the zone was not approved. Saying that you did not know you were with a public park or housing project zone will not be considered an adequate defense, similar to a school zone charge.
Penalties For Public Park and Housing Distribution
Violating N.J.S.A. 2C:35-7.1 constitutes an automatic second degree crime. This is a serious indictable offense, New Jersey’s version of a felony charge, and comes with harsh penalties if convicted. The only case in which the penalties change is if the drug involved was marijuana and the amount was less than an ounce, in which case the crime is a third degree offense.
- Drug Distribution or Intent to Distribute in a Public Park or Housing – Second Degree
- Between 5-10 years in prison
- Fines of up to $150,000
- Distribution of Less Than One Ounce of Marijuana in a Public Park or Housing – Third Degree
- Between 3-5 years in prison
- Fines of up to $35,000
Note that some amount of parole ineligibility is attached to second degree crimes and they also come with a presumption of incarceration. Third degree crimes tend not to come with a presumption of incarceration for first time offenders, however, if you have previously had a drug conviction you case may be subject to the Brimage Guidelines. These come with mandatory prison sentences and long periods of parole ineligibility.
Charged with A Public Park or Housing Distribution Offense?
These violations are very serious due to their status as second degree crimes. At Schneider Freiberger we have extensive experience with these types of charges. We will answer any questions you might have, lay out your options and construct a rock solid defense to defeat the state’s allegations.