New Jersey Pre-Trial Intervention and Conditional Discharge Programs

     When there are no realistic possibility for an acquital or a not gulty verdict, first time offenders can often still avoid a criminal conviction.  A criminal conviction can cost thousands in fines, jail time, loss of driver’s and professional licenses and a hard time finding employment. 

With over 40 years experience as a Judge, Prosecutor, and Criminal Defense Attorney, we have among the highest acquittal rate in NJ.  In cases where a defendant is caught dead to rights however, there are the Pre Trial Intervention (PTI) and Conditional Discharge programs.

What is Pre Trial Intervention (PTI)?

New Jersey among many other states have created a pathway for eligible first offenders to avoid a criminal prosecution and subsequent conviction.  These programs are only allowed to be used one in a life time and can be a safe haven for the rare cases where there are no defenses.  

Once entered into PTI in NJ, the case is essentially put on hold, while the client follows what can be described as probation.  While enrolled, a defendant must not have any more criminal charges brought against them, and must follow the required guidelines, which may include drug testing, counselling, etc.  Once complete, all the original criminal charges should be dismissed, the records of arrest can be expunged, and then it is as if it never happened.

What is Conditional Discharge (CD)?

Conditional Discharge is also a diversionary program.  It is used near exclusively for disorderly persons drug cases in Municipal Court.  Disorderly persons offenses are not indictible offenses and carry a maximum of 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Like PTI, you will be required to stay out of trouble for the duration of the program, and the original charges will be dismissed upon completion of the program.  

Just like with PTI however, although your case will be dismissed you will still have an arrest record which employers may see.  There is an expedited procedure to expunge these records, which may be used far sooner than generally available.  

How simple is it to enter these programs?

Pre-trial Intervention and Conditional Discharge are not automatic.  They must be applied for and often there must be oral argument with the Judge in order to enroll a defendant.  Additionally, there are certain limits and bars to entrance into the program.  Generally the Judge must find that entrance into a program is in the best interests of society and the defendant.  They will consider whether the defendant is a danger to the community and whether release will adequately protect the public.  This means that depending on the crime in question and the circumstances of the crime, relief may be denied.  Additionally, a defendant must never have had prior drug related convictions for entrance into Conditional Discharge, and must have no prior criminal convictions for entrance into PTI.  Other disqualifiers apply, see here for more.  

With all cases, we highly recommend use of PTI and CD as last resorts.  They are usable only only once in a life time and it is generally a good idea to maintain its availability.  We recommend always fighting your case with an experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer, as there are often other ways around a case to keep you safe.  

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is there any reason I shouldnt use PTI or CD?

Both programs are only available one in a life time, so their use must be weighed between the possibility of future criminal proceedings and the urgency to use them now.  Most clients have other defenses to their charges.  These avenues should be utilized first in order to save the use of a program for when they are truly necessary.  

Sometimes when using Conditional Discharge for a Marijuana or other Drug offense, a Judge may have you plead guilty first, in which case they may still enforce the 2-year driver’s license suspension.  In these cases, we are required to argue with the Judge as to why this suspension would create an extreme hardship upon a client.

Expungements are expedited for applicants to these programs.  Upon completion of the program, you will be allowed to expunge your record in 6-months as opposed to 3-years under other circumstances.  The use of the programs, however, does bar the use of an expungement for future or prior convictions however.

Do I need a lawyer to use PTI and Conditional Discharge?

No legal proceeding ever requires the use of an attorney, however your chances of successfully completing and entering these programs are significantly enhanced with the help of a NJ Criminal Defense Attorney.  

These programs are not automatic, and often times an argument before the Judge, or with the Prosecutor is required.  Once more, it is highly advisable to consult a lawyer before entering any program, as they may not be right for you, and you may have other ways around a criminal conviction.  

What can I expect after I enter Conditional Discharge or PTI?

The first step is generally an interview where an individuals needs are assessed.  Depending on the results of the interview and on what the charges are, an individualized plan will be created.   Most often, all that is required is a random drug screen and maintanence of employment.  In some cases where it is deemed necessary, the Court does have the authority to require much more.  Please call for further inquires on this.

Are these programs available to immigrants, or non-citizens?

Not all cases will allow non-citizens, especially illegal immigrants into the programs.  This is where effective legal arguments come in handy.  We are often able to argue for even technically ineligible defendants to enter the programs. For all non-citizens however, a criminal conviction is extremely dangerous, and we highly suggest you contact a NJ criminal defense lawyer immediately.

I am a non-citizen, how will this affect me once I am entered into the program?

Once entered into the program, and upon successful completion, all charges will be dismissed.  This means that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), will have no reason to go after you, and generally you will be safe and in the same position you were before being arrested.

What happens when I have numerous charges?

In most cases we are able to work with the Prosecutor, Judge, and Criminal Division Manager to merge the charges, and enter a client into the program regardless, ending up with a dismissal of all charges.  

How does a NJ PTI / Conditional Discharge work when I live in another State?

Generally we are able to transfer these programs to affiliate or equivalent programs in your home State.  

How do I expunge my record after completing PTI / Conditional Discharge?

Expungements are permitted 6-months after completion of either of PTI or Conditional Discharge.  Depending on your charges, generally expugnement wont be possible for anywhere from 3 to 10 years.  Other than the time frame, all the other requirements for expungement stay the same.  It should be noted that entrance into the programs may forbear you from expunging prior arrests and all future arrests.  As such, we sometimes recommend clients expunge their records before entrance into the program, if they have any significant criminal record.

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