On April 19, 2021, one day after Governor Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill that would have eliminated mandatory minimum prison sentences for a broad set of crimes, New Jersey’s Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal, issued a groundbreaking internal directive to prosecutors (the “Directive”) that exercised prosecutorial discretion to effectively eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug [...]
On February 22, 2021, New Jersey became the 14th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana when Governor Phil Murphy signed a group of laws that enacted the marijuana legalization ballot measure approved by more than two-thirds of New Jersey voters in November.
It may come as a surprise to most, including many criminal defense attorneys, that the federal system detains a greater percentage of people arrested than state systems. Since the Bail Reform Act (BRA), enacted in 1984, pretrial detention has significantly increased from 19% in 1985 to 75% in 2019, which is particularly astounding, considering violent crime accounts for only 2% of federal arrests.
The federal government has hired 300 additional prosecutors and created the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit and the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement Team to investigate, uncover, and prosecute the prescribing and dispensing of opioids by healthcare professionals – doctors and pharmacists – as well as street-level sales of opioids and fentanyl. Since January 2018, over 200 doctors have been charged.
With the legalization of marijuana for recreational and medicinal uses across the country, police and legislators are scrambling for accurate devices that can detect a person’s impairment for driving under the influence of marijuana. Most law enforcement agencies rely on observation and specific cognitive and field balance tests by certified drug recognition experts (DRE). However, none are scientifically accurate to detect the level of impairment.
Is the NJ Attorney General’s moratorium on marijuana prosecutions a “move toward decriminalization?” Probably not.
When New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a memorandum yesterday ordering local prosecutors to temporarily halt marijuana prosecutions in municipal courts until September, news outlets, including the New York Times, called it a possible "step toward decriminalization." Amol Sinha, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey executive director, praised the move, stating that "[b]y directing prosecutors to pause adjudication of marijuana cases, this letter starts that [decriminalization] process." Marijuana trade magazines were even more effusive.
While most people consider themselves unlikely to become the subject of a police investigation, there is one common situation in which ordinary citizens fall under police scrutiny: the traffic stop. Police officers are trained to search for evidence of illegal activity every time they pull over a driver, whatever the reason for the stop. While the consequences for speeding, failure to maintain lane, careless driving or Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be bad enough – carrying the possibility of loss of driving privileges, assessment of motor vehicle points and higher insurance rates – things become far more serious if the police search for and find illegal drugs in a car. Teenagers and young adults – who are presumed by police to be more likely to be in possession of illegal recreational drugs – are often the targets of such searches late at night, while driving to and from wherever it is that teenagers actually disappear to when they leave the house to “hang out with friends.”
In the past several years, the federal government has focused investigative and enforcement resources on pharmacies that compound drugs, and the marketers, doctors and pharmacists involved. Criminal and civil actions have been brought for violations based on statutes prohibiting kickbacks, fraud and false claims. A compounded drug is one that is supposed to be tailored to a particular patient’s needs. These compounds are legitimately prescribed and used by very young or older patients that have difficulty swallowing pills, patients that cannot tolerate dyes used in pills or patients with certain allergies. Most are topical creams for pain or scars, or specialized vitamins. While these compounded drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they are subject to regulation and enforcement actions by a variety of state and federal agencies.
You are driving on the roads of New Jersey, paying attention to the speed limit, road conditions, and other drivers, when you glance in your rearview mirror and see the flashing strobe lights of a police car. You carefully reduce speed and pull to the side of the road to let the officer pass, but you realize he is pulling you over. What do you do, and what are your rights?
There is an alarming trend towards aggressive investigations by state and federal authorities on physicians. Whether it is by the state medical boards, DEA or federal or state prosecutors, doctors’ practices are subjected to heightened scrutiny. While this may be traced to the war on drugs, recent deaths related to the abuse of prescription opioids, and the criticism the DEA has faced for its failure to develop measureable results in its enforcement efforts; the genesis is less important than the trend itself for those subjected to the harsh spotlight of scrutiny.