TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley K. Turner and Nicholas P. Scutari 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 was approved today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“A criminal record can cause joblessness and homelessness that leads to a cycle of crime,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer/Hunterdon. “New Jersey Superior Court’s pre-trial intervention program has had success with rehabilitating first-time, nonviolent offenders facing more serious charges and transforming them into productive members of society. The same opportunity should be available at the municipal level where rehabilitation of low-level offenders will have even greater success. Ultimately, rehabilitation costs less than incarceration and is better for both our communities and taxpayers.”
The bill, S-2588, 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.
“Alternatives to the traditional court structure have been successful at the state level in ensuring those charged with disorderly persons offenses are able to rehabilitate without the permanent stain of a criminal record,” said Senator Scutari, D-Union/Middlesex, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Until now, municipal judges have not had the leeway to choose alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders and provide these individuals with a needed wake up call to make life changes.”
A similar bill was conditionally vetoed by the Governor in December 2012, citing high program costs. This new bill follows the conditional veto’s suggested fee structure.
It now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further review.