A criminal case can end in a variety of ways including a verdict at trial, a plea, a dismissal, or admission to a diversionary program. Two diversionary programs that may be available to New Jersey criminal defendants are Drug Court and Pre-Trial Intervention, or PTI. This post focuses on some of the basics of PTI.
Generally speaking, defendants seeking admission to PTI must satisfy two criteria. First, the defendant’s current case must be their first and only encounter with the criminal justice system. Further, the charge can be no greater than third degree.
Defendants who do not satisfy these criteria may still be able to gain admission to the program if their attorney submits a statement of compelling reasons in support of their application. This statement acknowledges that the defendant does not meet the basic criteria for admission, but should be admitted to the program anyway because of the facts and circumstances surrounding their case and personal situation.
PTI is a specialized form of probation. The difference between PTI probation and regular probation is that successful completion of the latter will still leave the defendant with a criminal record. Upon successful completion of PTI, the defendant’s record will simply read “PTI”. This is not a criminal conviction, and does not carry with it any of the disabilities associated with a conviction.
PTI is the prosecutor’s program. This means that the prosecutor has considerable say over who will, and will not, be admitted. The prosecutor’s decision to reject an applicant cannot be a patent and gross abuse of discretion. As the recently decided case of State v. Daley illustrates, this is a broad standard that gives the prosecutor considerable leeway to reject an applicant.
On the State’s appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s order admitting defendant into PTI over the prosecutor’s objection. Defendant was charged with third-degree theft allegedly committed while she acted as a caretaker for a 90-year old woman who suffered from dementia. Despite finding that the prosecutor’s rejection was not a patent and gross abuse of discretion, the trial court permitted defendant to provide additional documentation to the prosecutor to establish why she should be admitted into PTI and ordered the State to reconsider the application. Defendant submitted her own letter reiterating her remorse, and other letters from friends and clergy. The State once again denied the application. The trial court then ordered defendant’s entry into PTI, finding that the prosecutor’s rejection was a patent and gross abuse of discretion. The court pointed to defendant’s long-term employment with the State, noting that the conviction would adversely affect her life and employability, and noted that the crime was a one-time blemish.
The Appellate Division found that the motion judge erred by remanding defendant’s application for the prosecutor’s reconsideration. Because the trial court did not first find the State’s rejection to be a patent and gross abuse of discretion, a remand for reconsideration by the prosecutor was inappropriate. The Court further found that the judge erred by finding the prosecutor’s decision to reject defendant from PTI a second time constituted a patent and gross abuse of discretion. The appellate panel found that prosecutor properly considered all relevant factors in coming to that decision.
PTI can be a great result for a first-time offender, if it is available in light of the defendant’s background and charges. But it should be remembered at all times that the prosecutor has considerable latitude to accept or reject the application.
James S. Friedman, Esq., is a criminal defense attorney with centrally located offices in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Mr. Friedman represents criminal defendants with charges in all State and Federal courts in New Jersey and New York City. If you have an open criminal case in one of these courts, contact Mr. Friedman to learn more about how to resolve it successfully.