Diversionary programs such as Pre-trial Intervention (pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12) and Conditional Discharge (pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:36A-1) are currently available to criminal defendants charged with indictable offenses in Superior Court. These diversionary programs enable criminal defendants (generally first time offenders), to avoid ordinary prosecution by participating in rehabilitative services and undergoing supervisory treatment. These diversionary programs have the primary purpose of utilizing alternative methods to ensure that criminal defendants will not recidivate or create a crime in the future. Earlier this month, Bill A-3598 was forwarded to the Judiciary Committee for review. This Bill, if passed, will expand the application of diversionary programs to defendants facing disorderly persons, and petty disorderly persons offenses in Municipal Court.
The proposed bill will, among other things, mandate that the defendant has:
1) not been previously convicted of a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense in the United States, New Jersey or any other state;
2) not previously participated in a conditional discharge under NJSA 2C:36A-1, supervisory treatment under NJSA 2C:43-12 or a conditional dismissal;
3) applied for the program through the Court prior to conviction;
4) notified the Prosecutor of the desire to enter the program
5) satisfactorily complete the program
6) submitted to fingerprinting
In addition to all of the above, the court may also consider other facts relevant to the case. Some of the factors include the nature and circumstances surrounding the offense, the needs and interests of the victim and the community, and the motivation, age, character, and attitude of the defendant.
The program will not be available for defendants who are charged with offenses involving organized crime, gang activity, continuing criminal business or enterprise, breach of the public trust, crimes against the elderly, children, or domestic violence. Defendants charged with offenses under these provisions will have to rely upon the traditional municipal court procedures.
Implementing the proposed Bill will have tremendous implications for municipal court practice. It would enable those who otherwise may be facing criminal sanctions (upon a showing of remorse/ rehabilitation and successful completion) to avoid conviction. It will also allow those defendants to obtain expungement for their records sooner than they would be able to had they pled to a disorderly person or petty disorderly persons offense. If the Bill passes muster, it is to take effect 120 days after enactment. Municipal Court defendants will subsequently be eligible to participate in the program after the effective date.
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