Legislature Passes Bill Authorizing Municipal Pre-Trial Intervention Programs

TRENTON – The state Senate on Thursday approved 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, giving it final legislative approval.

“Under our current judicial system, first-time offenders face significant barriers to employment and housing due to their criminal records. In these situations, municipal judges should have the option of assigning alternative sentences for these non-violent, minor crimes,” said Turner, D-Mercer/Hunterdon. “Rather than permanently staining their record with a conviction, our goal should be encouraging successful rehabilitation. By saving taxpayer dollars and reducing the likelihood of recidivism, this legislation is a sound investment for the future of New Jersey.”

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’s pre-trial intervention programs have shown that we can effectively rehabilitate low-level offenders while avoiding the steep costs of incarceration. There is no reason why we cannot duplicate these positive results at the municipal level,” said Scutari, D-Union and Middlesex. “It’s time to move away from traditional sentencing procedures that subjugate offenders to a lifetime of punishment. Expanding the conditional dismissal program is the right thing to do.”

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 Senate approved the bill Thursday by a vote of 38-0. The legislation passed the General Assembly in April with a vote of 76-0-1.

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