I am deviating from the topic of DWI law today to address something very important that is about to happen in Municipal Courts across New Jersey. Finally, the Municipal Court Conditional Dismissal is here! Here is what you should know about it:
- Who is eligible?
- What is required?
- What types of offenses are ineligible?
- Is it automatic, like a Conditional Discharge?
- What is involved after approval?
- How much does it cost?
- What should defendants do?
Who is eligible?
As this is a first offenders’ program, it should go without saying that you will only be eligible for the Conditional Dismissal Program (CDP) if you have not previously been convicted of a crime, a disorderly persons offense, or a petty disorderly persons offense. This goes for crimes, DPs and PDPs under the laws of the United States, New Jersey, or any other state. Beyond that, you are only eligible if you have never participated in the Conditional Discharge program under N.J.S.A. 2C:36A-1, Pre-Trial Intervention under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12, or the CDP.
What is required?
Interestingly, the statute reads that admission to the CDP can only be granted after a defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty. Unlike with Conditional Discharges, where the court can merely suspend proceedings until the probationary period has successfully been completed prior to dismissing the charges, the CDP has no such provision. So then, it is required that defendants either plead guilty or are found guilty prior to admission to the program. It is unclear whether this requirement makes it so that defendants who violate will not have to return to court after the violation, allowing the court to just convert the CDP into a conviction, or whether a hearing is needed upon violation.
What types of offenses are ineligible?
If the defendant is charged with an offense that involved: (1) organized criminal or gang activity; (2) a continuing criminal business or enterprise; (3) a breach of the public trust by a public officer or employee; (4) domestic violence as defined in the Domestic Violence Prevention Act; (5) an offense against an elderly, disabled, or minor person; (6) an offense involving DWI; (7) a violation of animal cruelty laws; or (8) any disorderly or petty disorderly persons offense under chapter 35 or 36 of Title 2C, then the defendant is not eligible for participation in the CDP.
Is it automatic, like a Conditional Discharge?
Unfortunately not. Unlike with the Conditional Discharge, in which a defendant will be automatically accepted into the program if he has no prior drug convictions, PTI admissions or conditional discharges, with the CDP the judge has to consider certain factors in addition to the general eligibility criteria. These factors generally mimic the factors for admission to PTI, but are considerably less involved. The factors are found in subsection (c) of the statute.
What is involved after approval?
Like a conditional discharge, the CDP involves one year of probation. The statute literally says that the court may “place the defendant under a probation monitoring status for a period of one year.” With conditional discharges, the majority of counties do not actually monitor defendants while they are on probation, and one can assume that this will functionally end up meaning a year of unsupervised probation.
A defendant violates the conditional dismissal if he is convicted of any petty disorderly persons offense, disorderly persons offense, or crime, or otherwise fails to live up to the terms and conditions of the CDP that were imposed by the court. Upon learning of a violation, the court can enter a judgment of conviction and impose a fine, penalty or other assessment in accordance with the defendant’s prior guilty plea or guilty verdict.
How much does it cost?
As some of you may remember, Gov. Christie once vetoed this bill because the costs were too high, and they have been adjusted downward in this version that the Governor signed. There is an application fee of $75, which is the same as the application fee for a conditional discharge or PTI. Additionally, a defendant can be made to pay restitution, costs and any other mandatory assessment that would have been involved in a conviction. On top of all of that, the judge can impose an “assessment” which cannot exceed the amount of a fine that would have been imposed for conviction of the offense charged. The “assessment” is to be based on the “nature of the offense and the character of the defendant.” The maximum fine allowable by law for petty disorderly persons offenses is $500 and the maximum for disorderly persons offenses is $1,000.
What should defendants do?
Obviously, every case is different. But as a general principle, it doesn’t pay to use up a one time shot at something before making sure that the State can prove their case against you. With the CDP, this makes even less sense, since you will be forced to plead guilty in order to gain admission to the program in the first place. Consult a lawyer before you enter the program.