Conditional Discharge – New Jersey: Is it for you?

Similar to Pennsylvania the state of New Jersey offers first time offenders a diversion program for certain low level drug offenses.  With a conditional discharge a person’s case does not proceed to trial and conclude with a guilty plea.

PoliceSince there is no trial and no plea this type of disposition is not considered a criminal conviction. While there is no conviction courts can consider it if the person commits a crime in the future. In these situations the conditional discharge of a prior offense would be considered at the sentencing phase of a subsequent act following a conviction.

It is very important to keep in mind that a conditional discharge is not the same as New Jersey’s Pre-trial Intervention Program “PTI”. Unlike PTI conditional discharges are limited to disorderly persons and petty disorderly person’s offenses under New Jersey’s Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1987. While a prior criminal record may disqualify a person from a conditional discharge disposition a prior juvenile record will not disqualify a person from this type of disposition.

Another important point to keep in mind is that this type of disposition does not require an admission of guilt. The conditional discharge program requires that your attorney make a formal application to the prosecutor. While the prosecutions approval is important a court may approve a person for it provided that such an approval does not violate certain sentencing guidelines (mandatory minimum sentences). If a person is accepted into this program he or she must comply with all of the terms and conditions. If the person does not comply with the terms of the program they can be removed and the criminal proceeding, which was previously suspended, would proceed to trial.

Finally, while a person can apply for a conditional discharge following a guilty plea or even a conviction in a New Jersey Municipal Court, entering the program after a plea or conviction will result in that person’s driving license being suspended for a minimum of six months to a maximum of two years. The person’s license is taken immediately in court.

Conditional discharges are reserved for very minor drug offenses and are not applicable if your case involves a large amount of drugs, drug distribution, or a related conspiracy.