NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—On January 4, a state law went into effect in New Jersey creating a new diversion program within municipal courts called conditional dismissal.
Much like Pretrial Intervention and Conditional Discharge, the conditional dismissal program is meant to help defendants by providing supervised treatment.
First introduced on December 13, 2012, the bill states that if a defendant is facing certain charges, the conditional dismissal program can potentially help the individual avoid a criminal record.
Examples of eligible charges are shoplifting, bar fights, disorderly conduct and assault charges.
Admission to the conditional dismissal program is also dependent on whether the individual is eligible.
If the defendant has been previously arrested, then the defendant will not be admitted. Even if the defendant has a clean record, admission to the program is at the discretion of the municipal court judge.
The court will consider a variety of factors including the nature of the offense, the character and attitude of the defendant, and other factors. Within ten days of admission, the municipal prosecutor may appeal the court’s decision.
Once admitted, the defendant must complete one year of probation, during which he or she must follow the conditions of the court while avoiding legal trouble.
If the defendant successfully completes the program, the charges will be dismissed allowing the defendant to maintain a clean record.
If the defendant commits a crime or fails to follow the conditions of probation, the defendant will receive a criminal conviction and face punishment by the municipal court, including fines and imprisonment.
As of November 6, six cases in the New Brunswick Municipal Court have resulted in defendants being admitted into the program.
An issue with the conditional dismissal program is that defendants must admit in court that they committed the crime to be admitted into the program.
Due to this, immigrants that are undocumented may run into severe obstacles down the line when applying for residency or citizenship. Another issue is that not all municipal courts in New Jersey have adopted the program yet.
"Be wary if you have immigration issues because conditional dismissal requires an admission of guilt, which can possibly prevent you from becoming a citizen," said Eric Morrell, a local criminal defense attorney who has experience with the new program.
Because of these issues, it is suggested that defendants speak with an attorney that can help the individual in mitigating the charges.