TRENTON – The Senate today passed legislation Senators Shirley K. Turner and Nicholas P. Scutari 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 nonviolent offenders, a conviction is something that will follow them throughout their entire lives, keeping them from getting jobs and being able to fully contribute to society,” said Scutari (D-Union), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Until now, municipal judges have not had the leeway to help these offenders escape the minor sentences that effectively become lifetime terms. Allowing judges to opt for conditional dismissal can help them wake up nonviolent offenders to the need to turn their lives around.”
The measure now heads to the governor’s desk.