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A New Jersey Criminal Law Gives Offenders a Second Chance

stock-photo-885748-fingerprint-record-with-ink-pad.jpgGovernor Chris Christie signed a new legislation, Bill A-2598/S-2588, establishing a diversionary program for “minor” offenders in New Jersey municipal court matters. This law will take effect in January 2014 allowing conditional dismissal of disorderly persons (criminal offenses with sentences of less than six months) and petty disorderly persons (criminal offenses with sentences of less than 30 days) offenses for eligible defendants in certain circumstances. This law will operate similarly to the pretrial intervention program offered in the Superior Court.

The new law will allow eligible participants to enter into a one year probationary program and pay restitution, court costs, fines, and any other mandatory or discretionary assessments. Defendants will then be required to either plead guilty in New Jersey Municipal Court or there must be a finding of guilt to enter into the program. Entry into the program, however, will be before the entry of a conviction. The successful completion of the program will result in the dismissal of the criminal charges. Completion of the program will not be deemed a conviction for the purpose of any future prosecution. So in essence, the conviction is with wiped away when the defendants successfully completes the program.

People seeking entry into this program must have a clean criminal history. The program will apply to most, but not all criminal offenses tried in New Jersey municipal court, including disorderly conduct, simple assault, harassment, criminal trespass, underage gambling offenses, shoplifting, underage alcohol possession or use, and obstruction of justice. Individuals charged with gang activity, official breach of public trust, domestic violence, intoxicated driving, animal cruelty, and offenses against the elderly, disabled or minors are not eligible for this program. Courts must also consider eligibility factors such as the nature of the offense, a defendant’s background, and the victim’s wishes before entry into the program is permitted.

Individuals charged with a criminal offense who are eligible for this program may only be permitted into the program once. Similarly, prior participation in another diversionary program renders people ineligible for this program.

Those permitted entry into the program must pay a seventy-five dollar fee. Other fees and assessments may be waived or payment plans may be implemented at the discretion of the municipal court judge.

People should be aware that entry into the program does depend on a guilty plea or finding. This could be problematic for undocumented immigrants or resident aliens, because this could affect their ability to remain in the United States.

Successful completion of the program will ensure that a conviction will not appear on the an individual’s record. Nevertheless, an arrest record will remain until the proper steps are taking to remove the arrest from a defendant’s criminal history. Removal of an arrest from a individual’s record is called an expungement. Expungement is a criminal proceeding allowed under New Jersey criminal law in which an individual seeks to seal arrest and conviction records.

Our attorneys are experienced in all aspects of New Jersey municipal court matters, disorder persons, petty disorderly persons, and traffic violations. Our attorneys also have experience expunging criminal records. To learn more about what our experienced New Jersey municipal court attorneys can do to help, please visit our website, e-mail us, or call one of our lawyers at (973) 890-0004.