This blog and the accompanying firm website have numerous entries concerning drug court and other diversionary programs. One of the many stated purposes of these programs is to make the criminal justice system more efficient and effective. Other federal and state efforts and initiatives currently being implemented share the same goal. These programs and efforts all focus attention on a growing recognition of the need to increase the system’s overall efficiency, and to use criminal justice resources as effectively as possible. Particularly in these times of tight budgets and cost-cutting, all of these issues warrant discussion.
Briefly, a diversionary program diverts a criminal case away from the mainstream criminal justice system to a program that is more suited to resolving the issues that gave rise to the case. Currently, in New Jersey, the two most popular diversionary programs are Pre-Trial Intervention and Drug Court. Pre-Trial Intervention (frequently referred to as “PTI”) is a special form of probation that has been around for many years. The program is open to defendants with no prior criminal record and relatively low-level charges (typically no higher than third degree indictable offenses). The defendant must be cleared for entry into PTI by a section of the Clerk’s Office known as Criminal Case Management, and by the prosecutor’s office of the county where the case is pending. A defendant who successfully completes PTI probation will not have a record for an indictable (felony) conviction. The disposition of that case will show as “PTI” on their criminal record. This is very significant, since the successful defendant will not have a felony record and all of the disabilities and problems that accompany it. In the past, defendants were accepted into PTI without having to plead guilty to any particular offense. In recent years, more prosecutor’s offices have required the defendant to plead guilty to an offense as a prerequisite to acceptance. The plea is then held in abeyance and, if the defendant completes the program successfully, is vacated. Defendants who fail to complete PTI successfully are simply sentenced on their plea.
Drug Court, which is a more recent development, is another popular diversionary program. It is designed for defendants whose criminal conduct is motivated by substance abuse problems. For example, a defendant may be charged with a series of burglaries, and it is ultimately discovered that they committed the offenses so that they could obtain items to sell in order to have money to purchase narcotics. Non-violent defendants with drug problems may be eligible for admission into Drug Court. The defendant has to be evaluated by a trained substance abuse counselor who, in turn, prepares a report for the court and counsel. That report describes the defendant’s drug problem, and makes treatment recommendations. Defendants deemed acceptable by the court are admitted into the program. Instead of receiving a conventional sentence on their criminal charges, they are sentenced to a term of Drug Court probation. The term is typically five years, but they can be discharged earlier if they complete all of the steps of the program in a shorter period of time. As with PTI, defendants who are admitted into Drug Court can be required to enter a guilty plea on the underlying criminal charges, and can be sentenced on that plea if they violate the terms and conditions of their Drug Court supervision. Every New Jersey county has a Drug Court judge who is trained to handle these cases and, during their tenure as Drug Court judge, develops considerable experience with defendants with substance abuse issues. Continue reading