Newark, NJ- More people are arrested, charged, and incarcerated for drugs use and possession in the United States than any other nation. Drug laws in each state vary, but New Jersey has complex drugs laws and violating them can result in severe penalties including include incarceration. A criminal charge for possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia has consequences far beyond the criminal penalties. A drug conviction can affect your ability to get into a college of your choice, to secure future employment and remains on your criminal record for many years, or permanently. If you are an immigrant with legal status you could face removal for a drug-related conviction.
Drugs that are illegal to possess, use, and distribute are outlined by the Controlled Substances Act. New Jersey and other states typically adhere to federal drug classifications with only slight variations. The exact penalties for drug possession depend on the exact substance and the amount you have on you at the time of your arrest.
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug and with the exception of two states, Colorado and Washington, possessing even a small amount of marijuana can put your freedom at risk. In New Jersey, having less than 50 grams marijuana is considered and disorderly persons offense (similar to misdemeanor). It is less severe than possession of other controlled substances, but the offender could face 6 months in jail, suspension of your driver’s license, and fines up to $1,000.
Possessing larger amounts of marijuana, or possessing cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, LSD and ecstasy are third to first degree offenses and most often entail jail sentences, probation and fines well into the thousands. However CBD oils are completely fine. (see neoteric nutra for more information)
In New Jersey, it is also illegal to possess drug paraphernalia such as rolling papers, pipes and hypodermic needles. Even innocuous items such as plastic bags and blenders can be classified as drug paraphernalia.
If you are a U.S. citizen, regardless of whether you are charged with a minor or more serious drug charge, you need a Newark criminal defense attorney to represent you because of the severe penal and financial penalties. But if you are a non-U.S. citizen, having a criminal attorney versed in federal immigration laws is critical, and could prevent your removal from the United States.
Under federal law, legal immigrants are removable if they have been convicted of any drug –related offense and possession of drug paraphernalia other than possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less. However, the removable offenses are continually being litigated by the Board of Immigration Appeals and higher courts.
An interesting case before the United States Appeals Court of the Third Circuit, Ramiro Enrique Rojas vs. The Attorney General of the United States, deals with possession of drug paraphernalia and how drug offenses are classified for removal proceedings. It also reveals the importance of accurate court records in criminal and immigration cases.
Rojas, a Pennsylvania resident was convicted of possessing drug paraphernalia, and the Department of Homeland Security issued an order for his removal based on that conviction. In the police report used to convict Rojas, police noted that he also had “loose cigar paper and [a] plastic baggie” with marijuana. That is an important point because under the Immigration Nationality Act, foreign nationals are not removable for a single charge of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana. Also, under Pennsylvania law, a person cannot be convicted of simply possessing drug paraphernalia, the state must prove that the object was used or intended to be used with an illegal substance.
Had Rjoas been convicted of possession of marijuana he might not have faced an order of removal. As a Newark criminal defense attorney who is also knowledgeable about immigration law I understand the impact any criminal conviction has on my client’s immigration status before the conviction is imposed. I can negotiate for a more “immigration-friendly” resolution under state statutes, and can argue to have facts that can affect your immigration status included or omitted from the court record depending on how it benefits my client.
In his immigration hearing, Rjoas argued that he was not removable because the record of his conviction was not clear about which substance he possessed and Pennsylvania lists drugs that are not part of the federal schedule of controlled substances. He also argued “in order for a conviction to make an alien removable on the basis of a controlled substance offense,” the Department of Homeland Security “must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the substance underlying an alien’s state law conviction” was listed in federal schedule of controlled substances.
Even though the state used the police report to convict Rjoas of the drug paraphernalia charge, the immigration court dismissed the police report as “unreliable,” and the record was silent as to what substance Rjoas was in possession of at the time of his arrest. The immigration judge concluded that the Rjoas was removable despite the government’s failure to the substance he was in possession of, and because his drug paraphernalia conviction of was included in the schedule of controlled substances.
Rjoas appealed his removal with Board of Immigration Appeals which came to roughly the same conclusion as the immigration judge. The Board affirmed that the substance Rjoas was in possession of was not as pertinent as his conviction for drug paraphernalia. The Third Circuit concluded the government must prove which substance formed the basis of the conviction and remanded the case to the lower courts to decide if the government should be given the opportunity to do so.
Rjoas’s case is still pending, but this case is a good example of how important an accurate court record is when facing criminal charges and possible removal proceedings. This is true for all criminal charges including drug charges, weapon charges, and assault, just to name a few. I understand New Jersey criminal statues and the complexities of federal immigration law. Often, the best defense in immigration proceedings is a good criminal defense. I can offer you both since I understand the minutiae and details of immigration law and New Jersey criminal statutes.