Your first-time offense in New Jersey can result in lifelong consequences. However, if you're able to qualify for a diversionary program, such as conditional discharge, you may be able to avoid some of the more unpleasant or long-ranging penalties that you would otherwise face.
Simply put, a conditional discharge in New Jersey offers you three benefits:
- An alternative to the traditional criminal trial process;
- The ability to walk away from your charge without a criminal record; and
- The possibility of avoiding a suspension of your driver's license.
However, this opportunity is only available to certain people with specific charges and histories. If you or a loved one faces charges in New Jersey, speak to an experienced attorney today to see if you qualify for a conditional discharge.
How Does Conditional Discharge in NJ Work?
In New Jersey, the Code of Criminal Justice (NJ Rev Stat § 2C:36A-1) says that a person charged with disorderly persons offenses involving controlled substances can be eligible for a conditional discharge.
In this way, conditional discharge differs from other NJ diversionary programs, such as Pretrial Intervention and Conditional Dismissal. While the latter two options are available to first offenders facing more serious offenses and non-drug offense, Conditional Discharge typically only remains available to those facing minor drug charges.
If you meet the qualifications for conditional discharge, you will enter a probationary period. This usually lasts between 1-3 years, but the specific parameters of your probation will depend upon negotiations you and your lawyer are able to make.
After successful completion of the probationary period, you won't have a conviction on your criminal record. The court dismisses your charges, but there may still be a record of them. If you'd like to pursue a complete expunction of these charges, so your record is crystal-clear, you can do so shortly after your conditional discharge is complete.
What Requirements Are There for Conditional Discharge?
It's important to remember that just because you meet all of the criteria for a conditional discharge does not mean that you automatically enter the program. Courts decide to admit persons to the conditional discharge program in New Jersey on a case by case basis.
NJ Courts details the primary qualifying factors for conditional discharge. They include:
- Your charge: Typically, conditional discharge is only an option for persons with a minor drug offense.
- Your criminal history, if you have one: Only first-time offenders are able to complete a conditional discharge diversionary program.
- Any other diversionary programs you might have attempted: If you've already participated in either a conditional discharge or any other NJ diversionary program (including a Veterans Diversion Program), you likely won't be able to pursue another one.
- Your age: If you're eligible for juvenile court, you likely won't be eligible for a conditional discharge.
Additionally, these qualifying factors (and an invitation to participate in a conditional discharge program) do not entitle you to the stated benefits of a conditional discharge program. You have to successfully complete the entire program, following all of the rules without violating any terms, to obtain those benefits.
Crucially, the New Jersey Conditional Discharge program is not available to persons facing DWI charges.
Violating a Conditional Discharge Program in NJ
When you choose to participate in a conditional discharge program, you agree to abide by the conditions the judge decides to impose.
While you are completing your conditional discharge program, the court does not drop your charges. Instead, it suspends them.
If you violate the court's conditions, the court will stop suspending the charges against you, and you'll have to go through the traditional criminal justice system. Further, if you violate your program by breaking the law a second time, you'll then have more than one charge (and, likely, increased penalties) to deal with.
How a Highly Skilled, Hardworking Attorney Can Help You
If you meet the qualifications for conditional discharge, that means that you're a first-time offender. Your familiarity with the New Jersey criminal courts system is likely very low. When you first enter the criminal justice system, it can be an overwhelming experience. There are tough conversations to navigate, precise forms to fill and complete, and deadlines that cannot budge an inch.
When you're attempting to figure all of this out for the first time, it is a game-changer to have an experienced attorney at your side. In order to get into a conditional discharge program even with qualifications, you'll need to enter an official plea to receive admittance to the program. You may then need to negotiate with the court to receive a desirable length of probation, along with the other terms of your conditional discharge.
Completing these actions on your own can be very difficult and confusing. Instead, opt to work with a seasoned defense attorney. Attorneys with this type of experience will be able to guide you through the system and negotiate on your behalf. They can also help you fill out and file your forms and assist with drafting the various documents you need. Ultimately, choosing to work with an experienced lawyer is the best choice you can make when you're hoping to qualify for conditional discharge in the state of New Jersey.
Joseph D. Lento is Ready to Assist with Your Conditional Discharge
If you face a minor drug charge, it can be frustrating to think that jail time or other serious penalties could be in your future. That doesn't have to be the case. If this is your first offense, you could qualify for conditional discharge. Consult with Joseph D. Lento, an NJ criminal defense attorney, to guide you through the pretrial processes and your options for diversion programs in New Jersey. He can assist with qualification, application, and anything else that comes your way. For years, Joseph D. Lento has worked tirelessly to defend New Jersey residents in Municipal and Superior Courts all over the state. For more information, call the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or contact them online for the help you need.