What Is New Jersey’s Drug Court Program and What Can It Do for My Case?
For a long time, New Jersey had some of the toughest drug crime laws in the country, and defendants in drug cases often suffered the consequences with long prison sentences. However, over time, authorities realized that a better way to reduce recidivism rates in the state might be to emphasize rehabilitation and treatment over punishment and incarceration. So, lawmakers put in place a system of diversionary programs and alternative sentencing options that allow defendants in most drug cases to get the help they need to treat addiction and dependency issues. One of those programs is known as Drug Court, which basically gives individuals charged with non-violent crimes an opportunity to receive a probationary sentence and stay out of prison as long as they submit to supervision by the court and undergo treatment for substance abuse. The Drug Court program has been incredibly successful at helping individuals beat their addiction problems, and there are currently Drug Courts in all 21 counties in New Jersey. To learn more about NJ Drug Court, and to find out how an experienced criminal defense attorney might be able to help you get admitted into the Drug Court program, keep reading. If you are wondering whether you may be eligible for Drug Court to resolve your criminal case in Middlesex County, New Jersey, please contact our law firm at (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation.
What is the Purpose of the NJ Drug Court Program?
Drug Court was created with the goal of helping defendants in drug crime cases get help to address drug addiction issues. Since beating addiction is often extremely difficult for someone who is incarcerated in state prison, the Drug Court program offers an avenue for individuals to receive counseling and substance abuse treatment while remaining outside the correctional system. Drug Court provides a number of resources to participants, including access to drug treatment experts, attorneys, probation officers, and other criminal justice professionals assigned to the particular case. The “team” assigned to your case will work together to support your addiction recovery and assist you throughout the process.
Applying to Drug Court and Determining Eligibility
Originally, eligibility for Drug Court was limited to defendants who had been charged with a drug-related offense. Eligibility was later expanded to include anyone charged with a non-violent crime that was motivated by a drug addiction problem. It is important to note, however, that the Drug Court program is still not available to everyone. Rather, defendants must apply for admission into Drug Court. There are several factors that determine whether a person can get into the program:
- Non-Violent Criminal Charges: Only defendants charged with non-violent offenses are eligible for Drug Court. If your criminal charges involve aggravated assault, a weapons offense, or any kind of violent act, you might not be allowed to apply for admission into the program.
- Drug or Alcohol Addiction: Defendants must have a substance abuse problem in order to gain entry into the Drug Court program. A trained professional will be assigned to your case to evaluate your claim of addiction and assess whether you have a disorder that can be treated through the Drug Court recovery process.
- Prior Criminal Record: A candidate for admission into Drug Court must have no prior convictions for serious violent crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, or aggravated assault. The prosecutor in your case will conduct a background check and screen your record for any previous arrests and convictions before recommending you for the Drug Court program. Notably, this does not mean that if you have any prior convictions you cannot apply. In fact, Drug Court often serves as a secondary option when someone has been convicted in the past, so long as the offense does not prevent their admission.
Requirements of Drug Court in NJ
Once you have been admitted into the NJ Drug Court program, you will plead guilty to the charges against you, and the judge will effectively “suspend” your sentence so that you can go on probation through Drug Court instead of having to serve time in prison. The Drug Court program typically lasts for two years. During that time, you will need to follow a set of guidelines and meet all requirements established by the Drug Court judge. The judge in your case will oversee the team that monitors your progress and ultimately decide whether your recovery is progressing. Some of the most common program requirements include:
- Passing random drug tests
- Participating in inpatient or outpatient treatment for drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), or some other self-help recovery program
- Attending mental health counseling sessions
- Showing up for all required court appearances, which may be scheduled regularly
- Meeting regularly with a probation officer
- Being present for random home visits by court officials
- Performing community service
- Maintaining steady employment or attending school
Failure to follow the rules set forth by the judge in your case could result in you being sanctioned or, in the worst instances, disqualified from the Drug Court program. The judge could then order you to serve your original sentence, including prison time.
What Happens When You Finish Drug Court?
Assuming you successfully meet all program requirements and finish Drug Court, you may be able to have your original charges “expunged” from your permanent record. When an arrest, conviction, or guilty plea is expunged from a person’s record, it does not technically remove the charge from the record completely. Rather, the criminal history is no longer accessible in most records, so that only certain law enforcement officials and a few select others will ever be able to see the prior conviction. Additionally, once your criminal record has been expunged, you can truthfully answer “No” in the future if you are ever asked whether you’ve been convicted of a crime. Needless to say, getting an expungement can be very useful as you attempt to move on with your life.
In standard criminal matters, a person must go through a complicated application process to have a criminal record expunged, and that application may be denied if the person has a lengthy criminal history. Under New Jersey law, however, most Drug Court graduates will have their entire record automatically expunged, regardless of the number of prior arrests or convictions on their record. But your expungement will still need to receive initial approval from the court because certain crimes, such as first degree charges for drug distribution, cannot be expunged under any circumstances. Additionally, the court will first need to make sure that you do not have any other pending criminal charges before granting an expungement.
Seeking Help from a Lawyer Who Knows How to Get You into Drug Court in Middlesex County NJ
Whether you’ve been charged with a drug offense involving cocaine possession, heroin possession, MDMA/ecstasy/Molly, intent to distribute cocaine, LSD, distribution of heroin, or prescription drugs, Drug Court could be your best option to avoid a state prison sentence. This may also be true if you have been charged with a crime related to substance abuse, whether it be burglary, credit card theft, prescription fraud, or another criminal offense that threatens to derail your life further. If you face any criminal charges in Middlesex County Superior Court, you should speak with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who has experience handling these types of cases and has a solid understanding of the Drug Court program.
A seasoned criminal defense lawyer at the Law Office of William Proetta Criminal Law may be able to assist with getting you admitted into Drug Court so that you not only stay out of prison, but you also get your charges expunged after successfully completing the program. Simply contact our office in Edison, NJ at (732) 659-9600 to discuss your arrest and pending criminal case. We assist clients throughout the greater Middlesex County area, including in towns like New Brunswick, East Brunswick, Piscataway, Monroe, Carteret, Woodbridge, Plainsboro, and South Brunswick. You can also request a free consultation by contacting us online now.