Recently, New England Patriot, Patrick Chung, was indicted on the illegal possession of cocaine in New Hampshire. Mr. Chung, through his criminal defense lawyer, has entered a not guilty plea to these charges. The purposes of this short article isn’t to criticize or embarrass this player but to use his situation show others that a minor illegal drug or narcotic offense can happen to anyone—even a professional football player
According to the news, Mr. Chung faces one felony count of cocaine possession in that state following the indictment. This case presents a good opportunity to understand the difference between the different criminal justice systems in a state like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Our Philadelphia criminal defense law firm represents individuals charged with a number of crimes including the illegal possession of cocaine and other controlled substances in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Pre-Trial Issues – Motion to Suppress Evidence
In any drug case your criminal defense lawyer must assess a number of issues including possible pre-trial motions which would include motions to suppress evidence and motions to quash charges based on insufficient criminal complaints. In the Chung case it is unclear the circumstances surrounding this indictment but it does not seem to be based on any type of vehicle stop but possibly the recovery of a substance following the search of his home or someplace where he resided. Police could have also found these alleged drugs in plain view following a call for an unrelated matter.
Home Search vs. Vehicle Search
I’ve written a number of articles on the difference between home and vehicle searches. I encourage you to read them because this is an important issue involving the possession of illegal drugs, narcotics, firearms or a handgun. In addition to these issues there are also trial issues related to actual and constructive possession which your criminal defense lawyer must review with you prior to considering a course of action in your case. Unlike Pennsylvania, simple possession of a controlled substance in New Hampshire is graded as a felony and the maximum punishment is 7 years. In Pennsylvania, the simple possession of a controlled substance is an ungraded misdemeanor and the maximum punishment for a first offense is 1 year of state incarceration. Keep in mind that, in most situations, judges do not ever sentence an individual to the statutory maximum but rather, sentences are based on guidelines compiled based on a person’s prior record score and an offense gravity score for the offense. I’ve written articles on sentencing guidelines and I encourage you to read them as well.
Diversion Programs & Narcotic Criminal Offenses
It is highly unlikely that Mr. Chung will ever see the inside of any jail and will more than likely receive some type of diversion program, which in Pennsylvania would be something along the lines of Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) and in New Jersey something under its conditional dismissal program. Mr. Chung would more than likely qualify for a diversion program if he has no prior criminal history but our law firm does not practice in New Hampshire. This state may not offer diversion programs for an offense of this nature. Always ask your criminal defense lawyer if you qualify for a diversion program because every state is different.
In addition to a criminal conviction, drug charges and a conviction can sometimes affect other privileges such as your driver’s license. In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth recently repealed the statute which automatically suspended a person’s driving privileges for 6 months for any drug conviction. New Jersey, however, maintains a statute but the driver’s license suspension is discretionary. A trial court in New Jersey can order a license suspension or a driving privilege suspension of up to 2 years. If you’re faced with a driving license suspension in New Jersey due to a possible drug conviction it is important that your New Jersey criminal defense lawyer argue for a hardship.
Indictment vs. Preliminary Hearing System
Finally, the Chung case demonstrates the indictment system of justice as opposed to the preliminary hearing system. Pennsylvania maintains a preliminary hearing system which would require the Commonwealth to present its case before a lower court judge who would determine if a prima facia case exists against a defendant. A prima facia standard of evidence is much lower than what is required at trial which is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. While a grand jury maintains the same prima facia burden, defense counsel aren’t typically permitted to appear before the grand jury and have no right to cross examine the prosecution’s witnesses. In Pennsylvania, defense counsel can cross examine witnesses and present argument in an attempt to have charges dismissed or downgraded. I encourage you to watch my video on preliminary hearings.
If you or a family member is charged with a drug crime in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, I encourage you to contact our law firm. Every criminal lawyer may handle cases differently but prior to retaining a lawyer you must have a firm understanding of their plan of action!