New Jersey, like many other states, has diversionary programs in place to rehabilitate those who commit certain criminal offenses. The goal is to divert these offenders from the courts and prisons and instead provide them with support and supervision to prevent further crime.
The system operates on the premise that there is a link between a crime and the offender’s serious rehabilitative needs. The justice system gives them a chance to get that help, and get their lives back on track.
In New Jersey, two types of diversionary program exist for first-time offenders:
Offenders may participate in thelse programs only once. Ideally that is all they will need, as the programs are designed to deter further offenses.
Pretrial interventions seek to resolve first-offense cases before they ever go to trial. They are designed to work in the best interests of both victim and defendant, while allowing the court system to devote its resources to more serious crime.
A defendant who qualifies for a PTI won’t have to go through a full trial and won’t carry the stigma of a permanent criminal record. Instead, he or she will fulfill requirements such as community service, payment of restitution, and drug and alcohol evaluations. These requirements are monitored by the state, and the participant is carefully supervised throughout.
If the requirements are successfully met within the prescribed period, the charges will be dismissed, and there will be no record of conviction. If the requirements are not met, the case will be turned over to the courts.
Anyone who is charged with an indictable (felony) offense may apply for a PTI, but only applicants who meet specific eligibility criteria will be accepted. Usually, they must be adult residents of New Jersey. The offense must be criminal or penal; if the incident was so minor that it would otherwise likely result only in a suspended sentence (no probation or fine), the defendant’s request for a PTI will probably be denied.
Defendants with previous convictions are usually ineligible, as are parolees and probationers. Diversionary programs are only granted once—defendants will not get another shot at them if a second offense occurs.
If you apply for a PTI, you will be interviewed by the Criminal Division of the Superior Court. If accepted, the decision will be forwarded to the prosecutor and defense counsel, who must also agree to your admittance into the PTI program. If you are not accepted, you may in some cases have the ability to appeal the decision.
Similarly to PTI’s, conditional discharge programs are designed to rehabilitate offenders and to make the best use of court time and resources. Under conditional discharges, certain drug offenders may avoid trial in favor of court supervision for a given period. Those offenders are often charged with possession or marijuana, drug paraphernalia possession, or being under the influence of controlled substances.
In addition to supervision, the defendant may be required to undergo random drug testing, attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings or participate in other programs that the judge may order. Very often, the participant’s driver’s license will also be suspended.
The period of supervision typically lasts up to two years. If the participant completes all the requirements and commits no further offense, the charges will be dismissed.
Conditional discharges are only for drug-related misdemeanors. (If the offense is a felony, a PTI may apply). A judge will determine eligibility for a conditional discharge. Normally, to qualify, a defendant must never before have been convicted of a drug offense, never before have been granted a conditional discharge, and never have been granted a PTI.
The judge look for evidence that the offender is not a danger to the community, and that the community will benefit from the offender’s rehabilitation under a conditional discharge. Even though marijuana possession is not a serious offense, a conviction often carries long-term consequences. Therefore, it’s often advantageous for those who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana to apply for a conditional discharge.
A new diversionary program called a conditional dismissal is now available to complement the pre-trial intervention and conditional discharge programs. As with other diversionary programs, if a conditional dismissal is granted you will be placed under the supervision of the county probation department for a period of time, with the most common period being twelve months. Conditions accompany that placement and typically include having no further arrests, making payments, and sometimes, drug testing. At the end of the supervision period, if all conditions have been satisfied, the charge can be dismissed. You will still have a record of an arrest, but you will not have a record of a conviction. The arrest record itself can later be expunged.
Under the new law, a person who is charged with a petty disorderly persons offense or a disorderly persons offense may apply to enter into the conditional dismissal program. However there are certain qualifiers. The person must not have been previously convicted of any petty disorderly persons offense, disorderly persons offense or crime and has not previously participated in the conditional discharge, conditional dismissal, or PTI programs. There is also a list of offenses that are ineligible to be considered for participation in the conditional dismissal program, such as offenses involving domestic violence or driving under the influence of alcohol.
In addition to the above conditions, the following situations will act as disqualifiers for entry into the Conditional Dismissal Program:
If you apply for and successfully complete a diversionary program, the charges will be dropped, and you will have no record of conviction. (This will happen automatically—the court generates an order to dismiss the charges). You’ll have avoided fines or prison time and made great progress in getting your life back on track. However, the charge and the arrest will remain on your record. This can have negative consequences when applying for jobs, college, or professional licenses, as arrest histories are easily searchable. To remove the record of arrest, the PTI or conditional discharge must be expunged.
Six months after completing either program, both PTIs and conditional charges can usually be expunged. An expungement removes the record of the offender’s participation in a diversionary program, as well as the arrest that led to the original charge. It does not, however, happen automatically—expungements are a separate legal proceeding.
Since PTIs and conditional discharges are typically for first time offenders, expungements are frequently granted. Nevertheless, it’s important to seek legal help to ensure that you meet all the requirements and submit the correct paperwork.
Attorney Anthony J. Vecchio has experience on both sides of the courtroom, as not only a criminal defense lawyer but also as a prosecutor. He has received multiple awards including being named in the 10 Best for Client Satisfaction by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys. Anthony is ready to answer your questions about Pretrial interventions, conditional discharges, and expungements in the state of New Jersey, contact us today.
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