Lagana Introduces Bill to Allow Counties to Establish Central Municipal Drug Courts to Relieve Overburdened Municipal Courts

(TRENTON) – Assemblyman Joseph Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic) has introduced a bill that would provide relief to municipal courts dealing with heavy caseloads by allowing counties in New Jersey to establish a central municipal drug court to specifically deal with minor drug-related cases.

“Many municipal courts are overburdened. Many of these courts are inundated with heavy caseloads which can make an already onerous legal process even more challenging,” said Lagana. “Giving counties the option to establish a court to deal solely with minor drug-related cases would help ease the burden on municipal courts and make for a more efficient and fair judicial process.”

The bill (A-3828) would allow counties to establish by ordinance a central municipal drug court. This court would be authorized to hear cases arising in the county involving crimes of the fourth degree, disorderly persons offenses or petty disorderly persons offenses related to controlled dangerous substances.

The bill also establishes procedures for the appointment of judges to the drug court. In a county that establishes a central municipal drug court, the judge of the central municipal drug court would be nominated and appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. In counties with a county executive, the county executive would submit the names of judicial candidates for judge of the central municipal drug court to the governor. In all other counties, the governing body would submit the names of judicial candidates for judge of the central municipal drug court to the governor.

The bill would make community service or sentencing to a drug treatment program an option in lieu of incarceration. The county or municipal official in charge of the community service program or the director of the drug treatment program would have to report to the court any failure of a person subject to a court order to complete either. Upon receipt of such a report, the central municipal drug court may revoke its order and impose any sentence consistent with the original sentence.

“Incarceration is not always a deterrent,” said Lagana. “By having a court that solely focuses on drug related cases and can sentence offenders to drug treatment programs, there is a better chance of helping individuals who want to break the bad habits that got them in trouble in the first place.”

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Judiciary Committee.