NEW JERSEY – If juveniles are caught with marijuana or alcohol, parents would be notified in writing by the police under A-5472/S-3565, a bipartisan bill approved by the Senate Thursday and destined for the Governor’s desk for consideration.
The measure would remedy a portion of the statute preventing law enforcement officers from informing parents when a minor child is caught unlawfully using or possessing alcohol or a marijuana product, allowing parents to be notified in writing upon the first violation and each subsequent violation.
While Republican sponsors of the legislation, Senator Anthony M. Bucco and Senator Declan O’Scanlon support the change, they say it fails to address impractical complications in the laws which could brand law enforcement officers as criminals for minor procedural gaffes committed during interactions with minors.
“This is a step in the right direction for New Jersey families, but to be frank, this legislation misses a major problem when it comes to fixing this mess,” Bucco (R-25) said. “For parents to be notified, police would have to be willing to risk criminal penalties when interacting with juveniles suspected of using or possessing marijuana or alcohol. Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are willing to fix a very important component of the problem that they’ve created, but their prioritization of the parental notification fix is a smoke screen that distracts from the nebulous conditions they have created that could easily ruin an officer’s career if not navigated flawlessly.”
O’Scanlon emphasized that more changes are necessary to protect police officers from unfair criminal prosecutions when they encounter underage individuals in possession of marijuana or alcohol.
“Any improvement to the parental notification law is hollow if Trenton doesn’t address this underlying atrocity,” O’Scanlon (R-13) said. “I am pleased to see my Democrat colleagues recognizing some of the flaws in their recently enacted law, but even with this fix to allow appropriate parental notification, the third degree criminal charge hanging over officers’ heads is enough to discourage anyone from investigating underage possession complaints altogether.
“The irony here, is that this was done under the guise of social justice and police reform,” O’Scanlon said. “The Democrats have made it impossible for police to conduct an investigatory stop. They call this an equitable solution for everyone, but fail to recognize the extremely unjustified outcomes for police just trying to do the right thing.”
The recently enacted law allows law enforcement officers to be charged with depravation of civil rights for inconsequential errors when dealing with an individual under the now-legal age of 21.
The cannabis laws signed by the Governor less than a month ago include a provision stating that a law enforcement officer is guilty of the third degree crime of Official Deprivation of Rights if, during the course of an investigation of suspected underage possession of alcohol or marijuana, the officer knowingly, but not necessarily intentionally, violates any of the new procedural requirements mandated by the recent laws.
“The intent is key,” O’Scanlon said. “How can we expect to maintain the safety and order of our neighborhoods and cities if police officers are tarred and feathered for an innocuous action in the performance of their duties?”
In addition, an officer accused of detaining a person longer than necessary to investigate a complaint, which is a subjective determination in many cases, may be sentenced to between three and five years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
“Of course, we want officers to follow proper protocol at all times, but there has to be some proportionality between the violation and the punishment,” Bucco said. “In a split second, an unintentional mistake could land an otherwise exemplary officer in prison for years, even if no actual harm came to anyone during the interaction. This extreme penalty is unnecessary, just like another provision crammed into the new law that prohibits law enforcement from notifying a minor’s parents the first time they are found with liquor or marijuana.”
O’Scanlon and Bucco sponsor legislation, S-3577, preventing the legalizing of pot from becoming an attack on law enforcement and shielding them from irrational criminal charges.