Legal Challenges and Defenses in Synthetic Drug Cases in New Jersey

Synthetic drugs have flooded into New Jersey in recent years. Synthetic drugs take advantage of legal loopholes and gray areas. However, due to a string of high-profile medical emergencies connected with synthetic drugs, state officials have sought to crack down on the manufacture, distribution, and possession of synthetic drugs. If the police have arrested you for possessing synthetic drugs, a drug crime defense lawyer can help you pursue an effective defense strategy.

What Are Synthetic Drugs?

Synthetic drugs, also called “designer drugs,” are chemical compounds designed to imitate the effects of other narcotics or hallucinogens. Synthetic drugs may have slightly altered chemical structures from traditional drugs to evade restrictions on traditional controlled substances. In many cases, synthetic drugs can produce more powerful effects than their traditional analogs. Users may also be able to achieve a high with far smaller quantities of a synthetic drug. Unfortunately, synthetic drugs may contain chemicals that are too dangerous for humans to consume.

Types of Synthetic Drugs

Some of the most common examples of synthetic drugs include:

  • Synthetic Cannabinoids – Also called spice, K2, Yucatan Fire, skunk, blaze, and bliss, synthetic cannabinoids have active ingredients up to 100 times more potent than marijuana because those ingredients bind more effectively to receptors in the brain.
  • Bath Salts – A type of synthetic cathinone, bath salts provide a stimulant effect up to 10 times as powerful as cocaine. Common examples of bath salts include MDPV, methylone, and mephedrone.
  • Flakka/Gravel – This is another type of synthetic cathinone with alpha-PVP as the active ingredient.
  • Smiles – This is a popular name for synthetic hallucinogens such as 2C-I-NBOMe and 2C-C-NBOMe, which cause effects like LSD.
  • DMT – Also called AMT, Foxy, Nexus, and Blue Mystic, DMT falls into the categories of tryptamines and phenethylamines. DMT produces a psychoactive effect similar to LSD or mescaline.
  • Molly – Molly is a supposedly purified version of ecstasy or MDMA. However, many samples of Molly contained other substances, such as methylone and MDPV.

Are Synthetic Drugs Regulated Like “Authentic” Drugs?

The New Jersey and federal governments have sought to regulate identified synthetic drugs like the “authentic” versions they mimic. For example, New Jersey has outlawed the production, distribution, or possession of synthetic marijuana and bath salts. Federal law treats any analog of a controlled substance the same as the regulated controlled substance. The Synthetic Drug Abuse Prevention Act of 2012 also expressly listed several dozen synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones into Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

However, manufacturers of synthetic drugs constantly evade state and federal regulators by changing the chemical compounds in banned synthetic drugs with new formulations not yet known to authorities. Furthermore, synthetic drugs can fall into a legal gray zone when manufacturers package synthetic drugs with a label stating “not for human consumption.”

Potential Penalties for Synthetic Drug Offenses

Possession of outlawed synthetic drugs in New Jersey can carry steep penalties. Depending on the type and quantity of drugs involved, a person found in possession of synthetic drugs may face a fourth-degree, third-degree, or second-degree criminal charge. Penalties for a conviction for possession of synthetic drugs include:

  • Fourth-Degree Crime – Up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000
  • Third-Degree Crime – Three to five years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000
  • Second-Degree Crime – Five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000

In addition to penalties, a criminal conviction for possession or distribution of synthetic drugs can have long-lasting consequences in the form of a criminal record. A criminal record can make obtaining housing, employment, financial services, or educational opportunities challenging.

Defenses in Synthetic Drug Cases

If you face charges of possession of synthetic drugs, you may have various factual or legal defenses to fight them. Common defense strategies used in synthetic drug cases include:

  • Contesting the Illegality of the Compound – You might fight a possession charge by proving that the compound or substance at issue does not qualify as an illegal substance under state or federal law.
  • Lack of Actual or Constructive Possession – You might argue that you did not have possession of or control over the synthetic drugs.
  • Legality of Search – You may contest the legality of the search that uncovered the synthetic drugs, such as by arguing that police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop and detain you or lacked probable cause to search your person, bag, vehicle, or home. You may also contest the validity of the search warrant.
  • Miranda Violations – When police obtained evidence of the synthetic drugs by interrogating you, you might have your statements and the evidence excluded from the case if the police failed to advise you of your right to remain silent and your right to counsel before interrogating you.
  • Quantity Calculation – You might obtain a reduction in the grading of your charge by contesting the quantity of the synthetic drugs involved.

How to Find the Right Criminal Defense Lawyer

Choosing the right criminal defense attorney can have a positive effect on the outcome of your case. Factors you should consider when selecting a criminal defense lawyer include:

  • Experience – How long has the attorney practiced law? Do they focus on criminal defense? How many synthetic drug cases have they handled? How often have they taken cases to trial? Do they have other relevant legal experience, such as prior work as a criminal prosecutor?
  • Track Record – What kind of reputation does the attorney have with prosecutors and judges? How often do they secure dismissal or acquittals? How often do they obtain other favorable outcomes, such as plea deals?
  • Communication Style – What kind of communication and working style does the attorney have? Do they seem compassionate and interested in helping you? How frequently will they contact you about your case? Will they communicate with you via your preferred method (e.g., email, phone calls, text messages)?

Contact Our New Jersey Criminal Attorneys for Help

If you face charges of manufacturing, distributing, or possessing synthetic drugs in New Jersey, you need aggressive legal representation to protect your rights, freedom, and future. Contact Keith Oliver Criminal Law today for a confidential consultation with a drug crime defense lawyer to discuss your options for pursuing a favorable resolution to your charges.

Author: Keith G. Oliver

Founding partner Keith G. Oliver has a passion for helping people who are caught up in the criminal justice system. He believes that everyone has a right to be presumed innocent, and that one mistake shouldn’t define a person forever. This passion drives Mr. Oliver to tirelessly fight for his clients and pursue the best possible outcome in every case.