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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.
Since 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.
Can Pennsylvania suspend my kid’s driver’s license for underage drinking at the NJ Shore?
Parents do their best to ensure that their son or daughter stays on the right path, especially during the teenage years where the motivation to go off of it is sometimes strong. Peer pressure to drink alcohol and even experiment with illegal drugs and controlled substances is often strong. Reality TV shows sometimes contribute to this pressure to commit a crime, even if the minor is normally “not the kind of kid to get into trouble.” In Pennsylvania, many of our friends, family and current clients vacation at the Jersey shore. I can remember my own family spending the annual week in Wildwood New Jersey. Some head to the same shore town every year and others try different places depending upon their children’s age and their station in life.
No matter what town you visit, ultimately, children want to explore it on their own, especially when they reach their teenage years. While some parents may let their children go out a bit earlier than others, all of these young adults will be exposed to potential peer pressure to perhaps not follow their parent’s instructions of “staying out of trouble.” It’s important to understand that regardless of whether you travel to Wildwood, Margate, Ocean City, Sea Isle or some other shore destination, like Pennsylvania, New Jersey takes underage drinking very seriously!
While most people understand that drinking and driving could result in a driver’s license suspension, they don’t realize underage drinking could also result in a license suspension. In Jersey, under 2C:33-15 (Possession, consumption of alcoholic beverages by persons under legal age), any minor (underage of 21) who knowingly possesses or who knowingly consumes any type of alcoholic beverage in any public place or motor vehicle commits a disorderly persons offense and is subject to a minimum of a $500.00. If this crime, however, is committed inside of a car or motor vehicle, there’s an addition penalty.
There’s a 6 month’s driver’s license suspension for underage drinking even if your child isn’t driving! The law is very clear that the operation of the motor vehicle is irrelevant! So even if your son or daughter is sitting in a vehicle, drinking beer with friends as means to avoid detection, they’re looking at license suspension. If the minor is a New Jersey resident, the State will take the license right after the conviction is court. If your child is an NJ resident and hasn’t received his or her license yet, the court will send a copy of the conviction to the Division of Motor Vehicles. This will result in a 6 month postponement in their ability to obtain a license. In addition to a possible criminal record, a fine and a possibly license suspension, the court may require the minor to attend alcohol education or a treatment program.
Even if your child isn’t a Jersey resident, underage drinking could still result in a license suspension. Pennsylvania’s underage drinking law is in a way even harsher than in the Garden State. There’s a 90 day license suspension in the Commonwealth for a first time offense, even if the drinking didn’t involve a car or motor vehicle. Similar to a drunk driving charge, New Jersey will send a copy of the conviction to Pennsylvania (PENNDOT).
Pennsylvania and New Jersey are members of the Driver License Compact (DLC). There are 46 member states and the goal of this agreement is the “one driver license” concept. The purpose is to ensure the accurate reporting of all traffic and license suspension/revocations of out of state drivers to the home state licensing agency. Given DLC, there’s strong possibility that Pennsylvania could suspend a minor’s PA driver license or delay the attainment of it, for a New Jersey offense at the shore.
If your son or daughter is charged with underage drinking at the Jersey shore, don’t simply plead guilty and mail in the fine! Even if the fine is minor, don’t overlook. In addition to the criminal penalties, this crime could dramatically affect your car insurance rates. For more information, contact our office. I also encourage you to visit my free download section and subscribe to my monthly newsletter.