TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Shirley K. Turner and Nicholas P. Scutari to create a municipal court-based conditional dismissal program, giving municipal judges the same ability as state judges to assign certain offenders to pre-trial intervention programs rather than jail was unanimously approved today by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“Individuals with criminal records face a broad set of challenges, including barriers to employment and affordable housing opportunities. Rather than permanently staining their record with a conviction, municipal judges should have the option of choosing alternative sentences for first-time, non-violent offenders,” said Turner, D-Mercer/Hunterdon. “Assigning these individuals to pre-intervention programs is a commonsense approach that will ultimately lower costs for taxpayers and reduce the likelihood of recidivism.”
The bill, S-2588, would create an alternative for a first-time offender who is charged with a lesser, non-indictable disorderly persons or petty disorderly persons offense in municipal court, helping potentially thousands of first-time offenders avoid a record of conviction.
Conditional dismissal would not be available to any defendant who had previously participated in a conditional discharge or dismissal program, or state-level PTI. In addition, conditional dismissal would not be applicable in cases involving organized criminal or gang activity, public corruption, domestic violence, or driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, among other charges.
“The New Jersey Superior Court has successfully used pre-trial intervention programs to rehabilitate low-level offenders, and there is no reason why this initiative should not be implemented at the municipal level,” said Scutari, D-Union/Middlesex. “Traditional sentencing procedures can make it more difficult for offenders to find stable employment, increasing the likelihood that they will fall into a cycle of crime. By creating a comparable municipal court program, we can avoid the steep costs of incarceration and give these individuals a second chance to succeed.”
A similar bill was conditionally vetoed by the Governor in December 2012, citing high program costs. This new bill follows the conditional veto’s suggested fee structure.
The legislation passed the General Assembly in April by a vote of 76-0-1. It now heads to the Senate floor for a vote.
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