According to recent news reports, a Mercer County, NJ, teenager was arrested on charges of dealing drugs and possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle. Although there was no direct indication of drug DUI, such a situation could have resulted in a similar charge against the teen. If a charge of drug DUI was also involved, defense similar to driving while intoxicated due to the influence of alcohol could be applied, with certain differences.
As a New Jersey DWI and drug DUI defense lawyer, I know that certain conditions have to be met to charge a driver with possession of marijuana. Unless the driver is carrying the marijuana himself, he generally cannot be charged with possession in a motor vehicle. Under N.J.S.A. 39:4-49.1 the law prohibits a person from operating a motor vehicle while knowingly being in possession of pot.
According to the news reports, a traffic stop was made on December 17 just before 11pm on Route 206. At the time, police were conducting drunken driving patrols as part of the “Over the Limit, Under Arrest” anti-DWI enforcement campaign. Police reports indicate that officers pulled over a 2005 Honda with several young people inside. The driver was identified as Russell Floyd, and 18-year-old resident of Lawrenceville. The driver was issued one of several summonses by the police when they discovered the teen did not have a valid driver’s license.
Coincident to the traffic stop, another passenger, a 17-year-old male from Princeton, was found to be in the possession of more than a dozen ziplock bags of marijuana, as well as 11 empty bags and a weighing scale. The juvenile, who police have declined to identify, was charged with possession of drugs with intent to distribute, among other offenses.
It is important to note that the law against possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle applies solely to the driver and not the passengers of a vehicle. In order to prove a violation, the state must establish that the suspect was A) the driver, B) had marijuana on his or her person and C) knew positively that he or she was carrying said substance while operating the motor vehicle. If the operator of the vehicle was not within wingspan of physically controlling the marijuana, he has a good chance of avoiding a conviction.
Cops: Princeton teen dealer had baggies and scale in the car, Trentonian.com, December 29, 2009