Measure Would Provide Treatment, Rather than Jail Time, for Minor Offenses
The full Senate on Thursday advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly members Reed Gusciora, Angel Fuentes and Pamela Lampitt that would help individuals charged with petty or disorderly offenses avoid jail time by creating an alternative to typical prosecution.
“Alternative programs like this can help keep people’s lives on track, make sure they get the treatment they need and save taxpayers money in the long-run said,” Gusciora. “As a municipal prosecutor, I know how strained our criminal justice system is. This would help alleviate some of that burden and save lives in the process.”
The bill (A-3598/S-2588), approved 38-0 by the Senate, would establish a conditional dismissal program in municipal court similar to existing supervisory treatment programs, which would allow individuals charged with a disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense to have the charges dismissed if they successfully complete a supervisory treatment program.
“This is a way to help reduce some of the burden on our already overburdened criminal justice system said Fuentes (D-Camden/Gloucester). “The changes we’ve made to this bill are sensible and in the interest of making this program more accessible to everyone to help turn more lives around.”
A similar measure was conditionally vetoed by Governor Christie because it included a $500 fine to assist municipalities with the costs associated with the program. The new measure approved today reduces the fine to $75 in an effort to make the conditional dismissal option feasible for everyone, including those with limited means.
“For individuals who don’t have a violent nature or a history of previous serious offenses, this is an opportunity for a second chance,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “With the proper treatment, hopefully they can find the right path in life and avoid incarceration.”
If a defendant who is participating in the conditional dismissal program is convicted of any petty disorderly persons offense, disorderly persons offense or other crime under any state or federal, or otherwise fails to comply with the terms and conditions imposed by the court, the court can enter a judgment of conviction and impose a fine, penalty, or other assessment in accordance with the defendant’s prior plea of guilty or prior finding of guilt.
Under the bill, the conditional dismissal option would not be available to any individual who has previously participated in a conditional discharge, conditional dismissal, or supervisory treatment program (PTI).
In addition, a person would not be eligible for conditional dismissal if the offense for which they are charged involved: organized criminal or gang activity; a continuing criminal business or enterprise; a breach of the public trust by a public officer or employee; domestic violence; an offense against an elderly, disabled or minor person; an offense involving driving or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug; animal cruelty; or any disorderly persons offense or petty disorderly persons offense under chapter 35 or 36 of the Criminal Code.
With the Assembly already approving the bill earlier this month, it now heads to the Governor’s desk for consideration.