Quasi-urgent legal question about a recent arrest of a friend.
January 17, 2006 4:04 PM   Subscribe

Quasi-urgent legal question about a recent arrest of a friend.

A few things she needs to know.

First, details.

In a brand new car, her and her friends were driving around somewhere (we live in New Jersey), and made an illegal left turn of some sorts. A cop pulled them over and said the car 'smelled like marijuana (impossible because they couldn't even smoke cigarettes in the car--but anyway),' and searched them. They found 'some' on her, but that 'some' was quite literally a few stems and maybe a fraction of a leaf of a bud. They arrested her with not only possession but intent to sell.

Clearly, this is ridiculous. But she has no money for a lawyer, and we're not exactly sure how the court dates going down.

First, she's wondering whether or not she can clear the 'intent' charge since there's no feasible way it could be conceived as such.

Second, she's wondering if there is a drug test of any kind around the date.

Third, she's wondering what the ramifications of this are. There's most likely going to be some form of punishment (I've had friends who got luckier than they could ever hope to have been, but that's not really the case all the time, obviously), but any idea of what kind?

She'd plead guilty of 'possession,' even though it was a small amount, so what would this lead to? Probation? Is there any way to avoid this?

I'm not completely inept, but pragmatically speaking, I'm a court-noob. Her date's soon, and the only way I thought of answering these questions was with Ask Mefi. So forgive me if the questions are odd or rushed.
posted by Lockeownzj00 to Law & Government (24 answers total)
Can she afford a one-hour consultation with a lawyer?

Have you checked whether she qualifies for any financial assistance in hiring a lawyer?
posted by winston at 4:08 PM on January 17, 2006

If she can't afford a lawyer, the state has to provide her (a crappy and distracted) one.
posted by orthogonality at 4:10 PM on January 17, 2006

But she has no money for a lawyer

She should have had a public defender appointed, then. You know, "You have the right to remain silent....You have the right to an attorney and to have him present during questioning, if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you." Did she waive that right?

If that didn't happen, she should call the clerk of the court with all speed and talk to whoever she has to until someone tells her what she needs to do. Actually, she should physically go down to the courthouse, where there's less chance of getting lost while on hold.

A public defender isn't ideal, but if she can't afford her own lawyer, the public defender is leaps and bounds better than showing up in court alone.
posted by Gator at 4:11 PM on January 17, 2006

You're about to get a symphony of "she should get a lawyer" responses. She should contact the New Jersey Public Defender's office. Here are some initial tips on what to do and what not to do.

(On preview, what Gator said.)
posted by brain_drain at 4:13 PM on January 17, 2006

Alright. I'll definitely tell her that. What do you think is likely, though? A lawyer may be a lawyer, but there's little to hide about what happened. We're just wondering what consequences are potentially in store (probation, drug test, etc.).
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 4:13 PM on January 17, 2006

How old is this person? It makes a big difference in terms of what the likely long-term penalties might be, as well as her plea options.

Regardless, she needs to see a lawyer. The court will provide one, remember, if she genuinely can't afford it -- but she needs to decide whether she really has "no money" to see a lawyer, or if she'd just prefer not to get one.

She needs to see one immediately. None of us have the knoweldge she needs about her specific situation and jurisdiction, and the consequences for any sort of drug case are worth the outlay up front for a lawyer.

She should also be prepared to accept some type of plea, which you say she is. The standards for intent to distribute are really low, and she may well have crossed them. But from what you've said she's still in a mental place where she thinks she can somehow talk her way out of this, which is unlikely.
posted by BackwardsCity at 4:14 PM on January 17, 2006

How old is this person? It makes a big difference in terms of what the likely long-term penalties might be, as well as her plea options.

She's underage. 16/17, I'm not sure.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 4:16 PM on January 17, 2006

On preview, other people beat me to the lawyer thing. As for consequences, they can be very big or very small, depending on what happens.

A lawyer could potentially help, for instance, in getting the charges dropped in exchange for entering a first-offender's program, if one is available in that area. He or she would be able to tell you exactly how that might happen; we can just speculate.

If this person intends to go to college, a drug conviction might hinder or eliminate their ability to get financial aid, even if she doesn't go to jail.

I'm not a lawyer, by the way.
posted by BackwardsCity at 4:16 PM on January 17, 2006

How far off is her date? I'm surprised she hasn't been offered a chance to plead down, given her age. A lawyer might make that happen, too, or make it disappear in exchange for the first offenders-type program I mentioned before.
posted by BackwardsCity at 4:19 PM on January 17, 2006

Bad news: a charge like this can hinder her ability to get financial aid for college.

Good news: she can probably get her record scrubbed the day she turns 18, so she'll never need to mention this to future employers, etc.

Now find a lawyer ASAP.
posted by Asparagirl at 4:19 PM on January 17, 2006

Underage= totally different (and lesser, usually) legal rights. FYI.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:19 PM on January 17, 2006

Where are her parents?
posted by Gator at 4:23 PM on January 17, 2006

It's quite possible that they charged her with intent to sell, expecting her lawyer to offer to plead to simple possession in order to get the intent charge dropped. The problem is that she doesn't have a lawyer; even a crappy public defender may well be able to make the intent charge go away if she is willing to plead to possession.

Hell, if the facts are as stated ("a few stems") then a good lawyer might be able to make quite a lot of wiggle room. Of course, good lawyer = $$$.
posted by Justinian at 4:30 PM on January 17, 2006

On posting, what Gator said; Times like this, while uncomfortable and likely to lead to parental repercussions, is exactly the sort of thing that good parents are for.
posted by Justinian at 4:32 PM on January 17, 2006

They arrested her with not only possession but intent to sell.

Getting arrested and getting charged are two different things. You are not automatically charged merely by being arrested. She may have been told by police "we are charging you with intent" merely to get her to tell them her source.

Certainly, if she's charged, the arraignment proceedings will offer her counsel (i.e. a public defender). She should discuss this case with a lawyer or the public defender.
posted by frogan at 4:44 PM on January 17, 2006

I was arrested at 18 for posession of the pot (some friends hid it in my car seats when I got pulled over, and it was my car, so...). There was probably a little under 1/8th oz., and I got off with a decent fine and community service. It was stricken from my record afterwards.

I had a lawyer, and copped a plea. This took place in a tiny, weed-fearing town with some really jerky cops (after I got pulled over, no fewer than 4 police cars were there "assisting" with the bust). Lawyer your pal on up!
posted by sluggo at 4:45 PM on January 17, 2006

Her date's soon

This is probably the arraignment date. Get her to talk to a lawyer there.
posted by frogan at 4:45 PM on January 17, 2006

Jersey sucks. A lot depends on which town the bust happened in.

In my parent's town the cops would tail suspect cars and herd them into zones near schools before stopping them, just to get the "intent to sell to schoolchildren" rap pinned on the drivers.
posted by zaelic at 4:52 PM on January 17, 2006

Stems and a little shake? Coralling into a school zone? Wow, Jersey is a shit hole.

Regardless, at least talk to a NORML lawyer and see what they can do before you get a public defender.

It's really a bit of a gamble and looks like a misdemeanor in any case, but I bet a lawyer worth his degree can definitely qualify this as an illegal search and get the whole thing expunged. I'm surprised he searched the car that closely, did you have a big "I <3 POT" bumper sticker? So odd, most traffic cops like to go in and out. I only bring this up since there may be a possibility your friend lied to you to make it sound more innocent, I'd strongly advise them to give the entire truth to the lawyer.
posted by geoff. at 5:17 PM on January 17, 2006

there may be a possibility your friend lied to you to make it sound more innocent

This occurred to me as well. Do urge her to tell all to the lawyer.

And yes, Jersey is a shithole.
posted by languagehat at 5:21 PM on January 17, 2006

If she can't afford a lawyer, the state has to provide her (a crappy and distracted) one.

I'm not sure how the Jersey public defenders are, but in some states/counties the public defenders are the best defense attorneys going. They get a lot of experience, for one thing, and in some places are the product of rigorous selection processes, and high quality training. They also tend to know their speciality - DUI public defenders doing DUIs all day every day for months or years, for example.

Slightly off-tangent, I realize, but all the crapping on public defenders is getting to me. Anyway, the New Jersey public defenders might not be so bad after all. I'm not familiar with their pd programs, but they might be quite good.
posted by Amizu at 6:53 PM on January 17, 2006

Thank you Amizu, I was about to post asking everyone to stop hating on the Public Defenders. A lot of Public Defenders have that job because they *want* to, not because they can't get a job as a "real" lawyer or whatever nonsense.

< /wants-to-be-a-pd>


While the stop & search are certainly shady, they're probably legal (or at least legal enough that arguing about 4th and 5th Amendment violations would be a pain). Once you commit even a minor traffic violation, you're pretty screwed and the cops will be able to create some way to search your person and/or car.

Also: "They arrested her with not only possession but intent to sell". That's what she is ARRESTED FOR, but not what she is CHARGED WITH. Police arrest, prosecutors charge, and police have no control over what she is eventually charged with.

Her best bet is probably to plead out to the possession, if she ends up getting charged with anything at all. If she gets charged with it, any reasonable prosecutor will drop the intent to distribute charge as part of a plea. My guess is she will get a stern lecture from the judge and a couple months to a year probation where as long as she doesn't get in any other legal trouble for a year, there will be no jail time.

*** I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. This is only my speculation on this situation. Your friend should consult with a NJ lawyer. ***
posted by falconred at 7:45 PM on January 17, 2006

Needless to say, if she does end up with probation she will want to lay off the wacky tobacky for a while.
posted by Justinian at 9:00 PM on January 17, 2006

I've got to get my two cents in on the ability of the public defenders. I've worked full time as a public defender for 30 years. I run a county office and supervise 5 attorneys. I have handled well over 50,000 cases in that time. There are no private attorneys who can make that claim. They come to us to ask for our opinions on their cases. I do this not because I can't get a job in the private sector but just because of situations such as the one described. I want to protect people from the overbearing power of the state, the little guys. It is a calling and I didn't go into the work solely to make money. Apply for a public defender, see what they have to say, if you don't like their advice they know who's good in the private sector and who isn't. Just like any profession whether it is buying a car or hiring a plumber for example, there are going to be times you are unhappy with the work done for you but I dare say that 80-90% of the time you will get good representation.
posted by malhaley at 12:22 PM on January 20, 2006 [1 favorite]

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