I have guided many clients through the PTI application process as a New Jersey defense attorney. PTI can be a great opportunity for individuals charged with criminal offenses to avoid conviction. In some cases it can be relatively straightforward to get into PTI. However, in many other situations with particular charges or circumstances there can be many obstacles to PTI admission. This can relate to the seriousness of the charges, but not always. There are cases where applicants are denied entry into PTI because for seemingly trivial issues. How do you get into PTI in NJ for serious offenses and other complicated situations? If you are facing any criminal charge in NJ Superior Court, call my office for a free consultation.
What is PTI?
PTI stands for “pre-trial intervention.” PTI is a diversionary program designed for first-time offenders charged with certain 3rd or 4th degree indictable crimes in New Jersey. PTI is only available for felony or indictable crimes in Superior Court. It is not available for disorderly persons offenses in municipal court. However, there is a similar program for such cases called “conditional dismissal” (or conditional discharge for drug offenses in municipal court).
The PTI process is in part handled and administered by the court and probation department. However, one important thing to know at the outset is that PTI is essentially the prosecutor’s office’s program (more on that below).
PTI is a probationary program. All PTI enrollees must complete a term of probation during their PTI term. You will be appointed a probation officer during this time that will be in charge of monitoring you and reporting your compliance or lack thereof to the prosecutor’s office and the court.
The PTI term can range between one and three years. During this term you must follow both general conditions of the program along with specific conditions of PTI.
Conditions of PTI
The general conditions are mostly obvious. They include:
- Remain law abiding.
- Report to your probation officer as directed.
- Obtain your probation officer’s permission to move out of the state.
- Report any change of address to your probation officer.
There may also be specific conditions imposed in your case. These are tailored to your individual case to address any specific underlying or outstanding issues. These may include:
- Community service.
- Driver’s license suspension.
- Psychological Evaluation (and to comply with any follow-up recommendations).
- Alcohol and/or Substance Abuse Evaluation (and to comply with any follow-up recommendations).
What Happens At the End of PTI?
There is one very big difference between PTI and regular probation however. This relates to what happens when you complete your probationary term. When you complete “regular” probation following a guilty plea or conviction, you will have a criminal conviction on your record. However, when you complete the PTI program, the charges are dismissed and you will not have a criminal conviction.
What if you violate your PTI terms? Failure to comply with the general and specific conditions of PTI can lead to a violation being filed by your probation officer. If this occurs, usually you will be kicked out of the program and formal prosecution of your case will resume.
How Do You Get Into the PTI Program?
The first step in getting into the PTI program is applying. When do you apply? You can apply to the program any time after you are charged but should do so no later than 10 days after your arraignment. The application process is relatively straightforward. You must pay a $75 application fee and complete a form. This is done at the criminal case management office.
You will then be scheduled for a PTI interview, usually with the probation department. The interviewer will ask background questions regarding your family, education, and employment history. They will also ask you about your actual case. The interviewer will have access to all the police reports in your case.
Anything that you say during the PTI interview can generally not be used against you in the prosecution of your case. The PTI interviewer has a lot of discretion as to whether or not to recommend your admission into the program. It is therefore vital to win this person over to your side to increase the chances they will recommend you. It is important to be honest with them, express remorse, and explain why you are a good candidate for the program. There are also other ways to maximize your chances for admission into the program.
Who Decides Whether You Get Into PTI?
Getting the PTI interviewer to recommend your admission into the program is just the first step. Once that occurs, your application goes back to the prosecutor’s office. The assistant prosecutor must also then recommend your admission into the program.
The county prosecutor’s office represents the state in a Superior Court criminal case. An individual case is assigned to an assistant prosecutor in that office. The assistant prosecutor assigned to your case must at some point sign-off on your entry into the PTI program. Many client’s initially assume that the judge can simply let them into the program and there is nothing the prosecutor can do about it.
In fact, its the exact opposite. Its the prosecutor that has the discretion whether to let you into the PTI program. The only exception to this is where the prosecutor has abused that discretion (more on that below).
What if You Are Rejected?
If you are rejected entry into PTI, and you still want to pursue the program, you have two options. The first is to convince the assistant prosecutor to let you into the program despite the initial denial. This can be done by providing mitigating evidence such as character letters or proof of rehabilitation.
Your second option is to appeal. PTI appeals are heard by the law division judge your case is assigned to. There is a very high standard that needs to be met to win a PTI appeal. I have experience guiding clients through the PTI process and appealing PTI denials. Give my office a call if you think you are a good candidate to find out how do you get into the PTI program in NJ.