Pretrial Intervention Is No Longer a Post-Trial Option in New Jersey

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

In State v. Bell, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed whether a defendant may be admitted to the Pretrial Intervention program after a jury has found him guilty of criminal charges, but before sentencing. The Court found that PTI is a pretrial diversion program that is not available to a defendant once the charges have been tried, before a judge or a jury, and a guilty verdict has been returned.

The defendant Sean Bell was indicted on aggravated assault charges. Because of the nature of the charges, and upon the advice of his attorney, Bell did not apply for PTI before trial. At trial, the court dismissed the second-degree charge and Bell was convicted of a lesser offense, for which he would have been PTI-eligible, had he applied before trial.

The Court admitted Bell to PTI over the prosecutor’s objection, finding that the law permitted an application notwithstanding the guilty verdict. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that PTI applications must be made prior to trial.

The Supreme Court, in affirming the Appellate Division, held that PTI is a diversionary program specifically designed to avoid a trial and the stigma accompanying a guilty verdict, not an alternative sentencing program. The Court stated that permitting someone found guilty after trial into PTI thwarts the purpose of the diversionary program and nullifies a valid verdict.

The decision in State v. Bell may have an important impact on New Jersey criminal defense practice, particularly in the Municipal Court and Family (Juvenile) Court setting. The PTI program was recently instituted in the Municipal Courts, and Conditional Discharges, which serve the same function, are available for cases involving small amounts of marijuana. In the Family Court, judges frequently grant a deferred disposition – a dismissal of charges – after a child is adjudicated delinquent. Because of these options, defendants sometimes initially reject diversion programs and go to trial in the Municipal and Family Courts, knowing that a Conditional Discharge or Deferred Disposition may be available to them, even if they are convicted. State v. Bell places this result in doubt.

Because of the changes in the law, it is important to be represented by experienced criminal defense counsel in your New Jersey Superior Court, Municipal Court, and Juvenile Court criminal matters. Call Schwartz & Posnock for a consultation at any of our convenient offices in Monmouth County (Eatontown), Middlesex County (East Brunswick), and Essex County (Livingston), to discuss how we can assist you in obtaining a positive result in your case.

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