TRENTON – A Senate committee today released legislation Senator Shirley K. Turner sponsored to create a municipal court-based conditional dismissal program, giving municipal judges the same ability as state judges to assign certain offenders to pre-trial intervention programs rather than jail.
“Pre-trial intervention programs have proven themselves to be a success in giving people in the Superior Court system the chance to turn their lives around without having a record of conviction and incarceration,” said Turner (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “A program good enough for our state courts should also be good enough for local courts, where many nonviolent offenders first wind up.”
The bill (A-3096/S-2169) would create an alternative for a first-time offender who is charged with a lesser, non-indictable disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense in municipal court, helping potentially thousands of first-time offenders avoid a record of conviction.
Conditional dismissal would not be available to any defendant who had previously participated in a conditional discharge or dismissal program, or state-level PTI. In addition, conditional dismissal would not be applicable in cases involving organized criminal or gang activity, public corruption, domestic violence, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, among other charges.
“For first-time nonviolent offenders, a conviction can be a stain that they carry throughout their lives, impeding their ability to find a job and be a contributing member of society,” said Turner. “Instead of giving up on these offenders, municipal judges should be empowered to help them rebuild their lives. Conditional dismissal can be the wakeup call some individuals need to turn themselves around.”
The measure was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee and now heads to the full Senate for a final legislative vote.