We often get calls from clients facing criminal charges who are concerned about what a conviction may mean for their future, including their job or education. Fortunately, New Jersey law recognizes that everyone makes mistakes, and offers certain programs to give first-time offenders an opportunity to avoid prosecution. The New Jersey pre-trial intervention (“PTI”), conditional discharge, and conditional dismissal programs are diversionary programs intended to give first-time offenders this opportunity and encourage rehabilitation in lieu of punishment. PTI is available for certain crimes that are heard in Superior Court. Someone charged with a disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense (i.e,. offenses typically heard in the New Jersey municipal courts) can apply to the conditional discharge or conditional dismissal program. Individuals with prior criminal offenses or prior use of the diversionary program(s) are generally not eligible.
The conditional discharge program is available in municipal court for offenses involving marijuana and other minor drug offenses. If admitted to the program, the offender undergoes a period of supervision, typically one year. Conditions of the program can include community service, random drug testing, substance abuse evaluation(s), and counselling. If the program is successfully completed, the original charge(s) is dismissed and there is no record of conviction. If any of the conditions of the program are violated, however, the charge(s) is reinstated and the case returned to court for prosecution.
Significantly, in 2014, a new law took effect that established a similar program in Municipal Court for persons charged with non-drug offenses. Under the conditional dismissal program, a person charged with a disorderly or petty disorderly offense such as theft, trespass, or harassment may apply for diversion. A guilty plea is required, but successful completion of the program results in a dismissal of the charge(s). (If you are not a U.S. citizen, it is essential to consult with an immigration attorney before entering a guilty plea.) Once the charge(s) is dismissed after a waiting period of six months, an individual who was arrested can apply to have the record of the arrest expunged, i.e., cleared from his/her record.
In order to minimize the penalties and collateral consequences of a criminal offense and take full advantage of these programs, it is important to have an experienced attorney help you explore your options.
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