Since 2014, New Jersey has offered the conditional dismissal diversionary program in municipal courts. Like its sister program in the Superior Court, the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, the conditional dismissal option for eligible defendants forgoes conviction in lieu of a conditional period of probation. For those accused of disorderly persons and petty disorderly persons offenses, it is often a great option to keep their record clear. So, if you have been arrested and charged with shoplifting from a store, you may apply to the conditional dismissal program rather than spend time in jail and pay high fines. Nevertheless, this can happen only if the prosecutor and judge approve your application, you have no prior criminal convictions, you have not used another diversion program in the past, and you complete the program. If all of these factors apply, you can avoid a disorderly persons conviction on your record.
Do I Qualify for a Conditional Dismissal?
Qualifications for entry into the conditional dismissal program are specific. First, you must have been arrested and charged with a qualifying disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense after January 4, 2014. These offenses, such as simple assault, shoplifting, harassment, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct, are municipal court matters. Though some domestic violence charges may be disorderly persons offenses, they are excluded from the program. Those charged with drug-related offenses for which a conditional discharge is applicable, municipal ordinance violations, gang-related activities, criminal enterprise activities, and elderly, minor, or animal abuse offenses are also not eligible for the conditional dismissal. Second, you must have no prior offenses or crimes on your record. Third, you must have never completed another diversionary program. Fourth, you must have been found guilty or pled guilty to the offenses charged against you (N.J.S.A. 2C:43-13.1). Other diversion programs do not have that requirement.
Can I Apply for the Conditional Dismissal Program in Municipal Court?
An eligible defendant may apply for the program after a guilty plea or verdict. They must also first notify the prosecutor and get fingerprinted. Then, before the entry of judgment for the conviction, an eligible defendant may apply for the program. Notably, a defendant does not get second chances at entering the conditional dismissal program. Once you complete the conditional dismissal program, you are ineligible for other diversionary programs, like Pre-Trial Intervention in the superior court or conditional discharge in municipal court. You may, however, be eligible for Drug Court under certain circumstances.
Will I get into the Conditional Dismissal Program?
Each applicant is reviewed for eligibility and acceptance into the program based on the applicant’s total profile. For example, a court may look at the nature of the offense and the circumstances in which it was committed, and the applicant’s character, attitude, age, and mindset. The court also looks at whether the offense was a singular incident in the applicant’s life or one that fits a psychological profile of one likely to commit further offenses against the public. The court further wants to know the victim’s desires, whether others were involved in committing the offense, and how the decision to allow one defendant to enter the program affects co-defendants.
In the end, the judge’s decision takes into consideration the individual, victim, and society. They want to know that allowing the applicant to complete the program is in the public’s interest. A judge may consider an offense involving violence as inappropriate for the program and not in the public interest. But a shoplifter stealing food to live on because they lost their job, recently got divorced, and fell into hard times overall may present a more sympathetic picture to the judge. Sympathy or not, the court wants to know the defendant will succeed in completing the program and benefit from it to start anew. Perhaps you are a student who wants to stay in college, a professional who needs to avoid a criminal conviction for your job, a full-time caregiver who would be unduly harmed by a jail sentence, or generally an upstanding member of the community with no previous run-ins with law enforcement. All of these may support your good candidacy.
What Happens if you are Enrolled in the Program?
If you qualify for the conditional dismissal program and a judge approves your application, you must complete the program within the time allotted, typically a year. During that time, your sentencing and conviction are on hold while you comply with the program. The conditional dismissal program is like many other diversion programs. A program participant is supervised by the county probation office for the length of the program, often a year. While in the program, the participant must not get into trouble with the law but must pay fees or restitution and take drug tests depending on the applicant. The fines and fees associated with the conviction must be paid, including a $75 fee for processing the application and supervision costs during the program. A court may apply other assessments as they see fit for the offense and defendant but only as high as the fines and fees that a defendant would ordinarily pay for the offense. They must fulfill all conditions of the program to have their conviction dismissed. Otherwise, the defendant is prosecuted on their guilty plea or conviction at trial.
If you fail to complete any part of the program or are arrested for another offense or crime, the conviction is instated; then, you will be sentenced for the offense or offenses charged. After completing the program, the court dismisses your charges. And after that, you may expunge all on your record that is remaining from being charged and arrested.
NJ Conditional Dismissal Pros and Cons
The program’s value is leaving it without going to jail or having an offense on your record. But in some cases, you might be better off defending against the charges if you have a strong defense. In that way, you avoid jail, the record, the fine and fee payments. You may also be jeopardizing your immigration status and future civil actions you may have against others involved or their civil actions against you. For example, if you must plead guilty before getting the charges dismissed, your immigration application or status may be affected by such a plea or verdict after trial. As such, a conditional dismissal may not be a good option for an immigrant who wants to become a U.S. citizen sometime in the future. Similarly, a conviction may affect your attempt to sue someone civilly for damages you incurred in a barroom brawl or other disorderly persons offense. And yet, for all intents and purposes, a conditional dismissal is a one-time shot to keep a minor criminal offense from impacting the rest of your life. For this reason, it is important to consider all of your options, the strength of the prosecution’s case, and your unique life situation and goals before making a decision.
Consider Your Options with a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are considering or wondering if you may be able to get into the conditional dismissal program, consider the merits of your case and available avenues with help from a criminal defense attorney. Our team of dedicated criminal defense lawyers can help you weigh the risks and benefits to aid you in deciding whether to aim for the program or pursue other strategies to beat the charges. We offer free, no obligation consultations 24/7. Don’t hesitate to contact our office in Point Pleasant at (848) 238-2100 to consult a lawyer today.