If you are charged with being the leader of a narcotic network in New Jersey, you should think twice about representing yourself.
Being arrested for leading a drug network (i.e. being a kingpin) is one of the most serious drug-related crimes in NJ and it can even lead to life imprisonment if not handled appropriately.
What Does it Mean to Lead a Narcotic Network?
Being the leader of a narcotic network means that you were the one who oversaw and organized a group of individuals who engaged in drug trafficking. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-3, it is unlawful to be the leader of a drug distribution enterprise.
In order to be found guilty, the prosecutor must establish that:
- The drugs involved were prohibited under the statute
- There was a scheme or course of conduct in place to manufacture, sell, or distribute those drugs
- The manufacturing, selling, or distributing was done for profit
- You purposefully and intentionally acted in order to promote or facilitate the scheme or course of conduct
- You had an agreement (i.e. conspiracy) with at least one other individual involved to:
- Commit, attempt, or solicit the commission of that criminal activity
- OR aid in planning, committing, attempting, or soliciting the criminal activity
- You organized, supervised, financed, or managed the conspiracy
In order to be found guilty, all six of these must be established. Although it may seem difficult, prosecutors are quite skilled at using circumstantial evidence to make a compelling and persuasive case before a jury.
What if I Was a Minor Player?
Make no mistake: this law does no only apply to the “head honcho.” This strict law could apply to you even if you simply supervised, financed, managed, or organized the drug operation. However, the law will only consider you to be in a supervisory position if you had power or control over the network.
Common Defenses Against the Charge
Remember, if the scheme was done only for your own personal consumption or you intended to simply give the drugs away free of charge (i.e. did not intend to yield a profit), you will have a strong argument for avoiding a conviction.
Additionally, in order to be found guilty, there must have been at least two or more people involved in the drug network. In other words, a conspiracy must have been in place to manufacture, sell, and/or distribute the drugs.
In order for a conspiracy to have occurred, two or more parties must have had the intent to enter into an agreement (as well as the intent to pursue an unlawful objective) and taken an overt act in furtherance of that objective.
If you did not actually intend to do those things or were bullied into leading the operation on pain of death, you might be able to avoid a conviction by raising lack of intent or duress as a defense.
What is a Prohibited Substance?
N.J.S.A. 2C:35-3 applies to the manufacture, distribution, or sale of methamphetamine, lysergic acid diethylamide, phencyclidine, gamma hydroxybutyrate, flunitrazepam, or any other Schedule I or II controlled dangerous substance (CDS).
What is the Penalty?
As we explained above, being convicted of leading a narcotic network (i.e. violating N.J.S.A. 2C:35-3) is extremely serious.
If convicted, you will be found guilty of a First Degree crime. However, instead of only having to serve 10-20 years in prison (as is the case with most First Degree crimes), you could face life in prison.
In addition, you will not be eligible for parole until at least 25 years of your prison term has been served. Although this mandatory minimum term can be waived under rare circumstances, due to the gravity of the offense, most judges will not allow you to.