Being charged with a crime can be a scary experience, especially for first-time offenders. The very thought that you could be convicted of a crime, serve jail time, and have a criminal record—can rattle your world and fill you with uncertainty. How will this affect your family? Your children? Your job? Any future career prospects? A simple misunderstanding or a lapse in judgment could utterly derail your life for many years to come.
The good news is that if you're charged as a first-time offender in New Jersey, you may be eligible for a special program that could wipe your slate clean and get you back on the right track with no jail time and no lingering criminal record. The Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) offers eligible defendants an opportunity to take several rehabilitative steps (e.g., counseling or treatment) in return for dismissing the charges against them. Whether you live in Gloucester County, Ocean County, Middlesex County, or any other region of New Jersey, this program can potentially help you avoid the revolving door of the criminal justice system while the state keeps its courts free to focus on more serious crimes. It's a win-win situation.
The state recommends consulting with a licensed New Jersey criminal defense attorney before applying to the PTI program. Joseph D. Lento has helped many New Jersey defendants avoid jail time and a criminal record by successfully navigating them into PTI programs. The following FAQ should tell you everything you might want to know about PTI so you can make an informed decision about whether it's the right step for you.
What is Pretrial Intervention?
In a nutshell, the Pretrial Intervention (PTI) program is a diversionary program in New Jersey that aims to divert eligible defendants from prison and jail through the use of evidence-based treatment. PTI is not meant to replace incarceration but rather to provide an alternative when appropriate. It seeks to rehabilitate offenders by addressing their underlying issues, which often include addiction, mental illness, homelessness, or unemployment. The goal is for participants to return back into society as law-abiding citizens with improved skills and relationships.
The idea behind PTI is that people who are accused of first-time offenses may have underlying causes that, if dealt with, could help them avoid repeat offenses. The program offers an opportunity for first-time offenders to avoid jail or prison time by completing conditions such as community service, restitution payments, drug testing, etc. In return for successfully completing these requirements, the charges against them will be dropped at the end of their probation period (usually six months). If they do not complete these requirements, then their case will go back before a judge, and they may face incarceration in addition to any other penalties imposed by law.
Why Should I Consider Applying for Pretrial Intervention? How Can It Benefit Me?
If you've never been convicted of a crime and this is your first run-in with the law, you have a lot to be concerned about. Having a conviction on your record can cause a string of bad consequences that can cascade on each other and wreak havoc on your future. Here's how:
A criminal conviction can do more than just cost you fines and prison time. It can also limit your job opportunities, causing many employers to be reluctant to hire you. A felony-level conviction can completely disqualify you for certain jobs. This limits your ability to support yourself financially, which often leads to homelessness or unemployment. This, in turn, makes it unlikely that you'll be able to afford the restitution payments assigned by a judge for your crime. If you were already struggling with mental health or addiction issues before your conviction, these conditions are likely to make these issues worse. In the end, all of these factors can cause you to commit more crimes. And the cycle repeats itself.
America has one of the worst rates of recidivism in the world. More than seventy-five percent of people convicted of a crime will be re-arrested within five years. The bottom line is once you get into the criminal justice system, it's very hard to escape the revolving door. And it all starts with one conviction. If this is your first arrest, trust us: this is one road you don't want to go down.
The other sad fact is that most people don't deliberately intend to get on the wrong side of the law. There are other factors and root causes that come into play, like addictions and unresolved mental health issues—things that if they had been properly treated, you'd never have gotten into trouble in the first place.
The good news is that New Jersey's Pretrial Intervention (PTI) program can help you break this cycle before it starts. PTI benefits you by giving you an opportunity to avoid incarceration and work on your problems instead of just trading one for another, like jail time for mental illness or addiction. The PTI program may be able to help you fulfill your obligations to society while keeping the charges against you from going on your permanent record. It can offer an opportunity for growth and community involvement at a crucial time in your life.
Pretrial intervention is an opportunity to begin mending your life without having the added stain of a criminal record. If you're facing charges such as shoplifting, theft, or writing bad checks, Pretrial intervention can be a stepping stone in getting back on the right track. If you have any mental health or addiction issues, PTI offers the chance to enter into evidence-based treatment at little cost to you.
Who Is Eligible for a Pretrial Intervention Program?
Generally speaking, the PTI program is open for application for any defendant who was over 18 years old when the alleged crime was committed or any juvenile being tried as an adult for said alleged crimes. That being said, acceptance is not a foregone conclusion--the prosecutor must agree to accept you. In general, the less severe the case and offense, the more likely it is that Pretrial intervention may be a good option for your specific charges. At a minimum, you should have a good criminal defense attorney to help ensure that your case is eligible for Pretrial intervention.
What Would Make Me a Good Candidate for PTI?
You may be considered a good candidate for Pretrial Intervention if:
- You have no prior criminal record.
- You are considered a non-violent offender.
- The facts and circumstances surrounding the incident indicate that the offense was committed without malice, and there were no aggravating factors, such as injury to the victim(s) or the use of a weapon.
- You are deemed unlikely to be a repeat offender, especially if you go through some sort of rehabilitation.
How Soon After My Arrest Should I Apply for Pretrial Intervention?
The State of New Jersey recommends that you apply for PTI as soon as possible after your arrest, preferably before any indictments are handed down. The latest they will accept a PTI application is after your arraignment and before your first case disposition conference. After that, it's unlikely that your application will be accepted.
Am I Guaranteed To Enter the PTI Program if I Am Eligible?
No, you are not guaranteed to enter PTI, even if you're technically eligible. The final decision to accept a PTI is up to the prosecutor assigned to your case, who looks at each application on a case-by-case basis. The prosecutor will be weighing many different factors before making his or her decision.
What Are Some Factors That PTI Will Consider When Deciding Whether or Not To Accept Me?
The prosecutor may consider the following factors in determining whether to approve your PTI application. These may include:
- The nature and intent of the alleged offense. (For example, was the offense a violent occurrence? Did you intend to harm someone else? Did you cause injury or threaten someone? Was the act deliberate and premeditated, or was it an impulsive decision?)
- The factual circumstances of the offense and how it occurred. (For example, did the offense involve a group or gang activity? Were you provoked? Were you under the influence of alcohol or drugs? Did the offense occur due to an addiction or mental health issue for which you may need treatment? Were there other extenuating circumstances?)
- Your age. (You must be 18 or older, or a minor charged as an adult, to be eligible.)
- Your prior history. (Do you have a tendency toward violence, or have you been violent in the past? Do you exhibit a pattern of anti-social behavior?)
- The state of your mental health. (Would mandatory treatment or counseling improve your mental health and help you avoid future offenses?)
- The position of the victim. (If there is a victim involved in the alleged crime, the prosecutor will weigh their opinion as to whether or not to accept you into a PTI or proceed with prosecution.)
- Likelihood of success. (Does the prosecutor believe a PTI program would help you avoid repeat offenses?)
- Needs of society. (Is there any reason why the public would suffer loss if you avoided prosecution?)
Am I Ineligible for the PTI Program if This Is Not My First Offense?
Not necessarily. People have been accepted into PTI programs with prior convictions on their record. However, if you are not a first-time offender, you will need special permission from the prosecutor to apply for PTI. You'll also need to attach a special statement to your application presenting a compelling argument for why you should be considered. Your application will not move forward unless the prosecutor allows it.
Which Types of Criminal Offenses Are Eligible for Pretrial Intervention?
PTI is available for most indictable offenses (i.e., felony-level offenses) in New Jersey. However, more serious offenses will require more scrutiny before prosecutors will allow you into the program.
Primarily, PTI is designed for defendants charged with third- and fourth-degree offenses. Examples may include, but are not limited to:
- Criminal mischief
- Aggravated assault
- Promoting prostitution
- Motor vehicle theft
- Possession of a controlled substance
If you're charged with a first- or second-degree offense, you may still be able to enter a PTI, but you'll need to convince the prosecutor to give you special permission to apply. Examples of these types of offenses include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual assault
If you are charged with a first- or second-degree offense, you have a lesser chance of being accepted into a PTI. Depending on the crime itself, a good New Jersey criminal defense attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor to get your charges reduced to third- or fourth-degree offenses, making it more likely for you to get accepted into a PTI.
Are There Certain Crimes That Are Ineligible for the PTI Program?
There are no specific crimes listed that make you automatically ineligible for PTI. However, certain types of criminal charges could make your acceptance into PTI far less likely. As a general rule, third- and fourth-degree crimes are more likely to gain acceptance into PTI, while first- and second-degree offenses are more difficult.
Some specific rules regarding eligibility:
- If you are charged with a crime that carries a presumption of jail time and a mandatory minimum before you'd be eligible for parole, you must have special permission from the prosecutor to be considered for PTI, and you must attach a special statement explaining why you should be considered. (Generally speaking, these include first- and second-degree offenses, as well as drug-related offenses.)
- If you are a public official or an officer, there is an "assumption against admission," meaning your application will almost certainly be denied unless there is a compelling reason to consider it.
If your alleged crime involved domestic violence associated with a violation of a restraining order, there is also an "assumption against admission." Your application is likely to be rejected.
Can I Qualify for PTI if I Am Charged With a Misdemeanor-Level Offense (I.E., Disorderly Persons Offense)?
No, you can't. In New Jersey, disorderly persons offenses are equivalent to misdemeanors, and indictable offenses are equivalent to felony charges. Pretrial intervention is only designed for felony-level offenses, so you are not eligible for PTI if your charges are at the disorderly persons level.
What Else Could Make Me Ineligible for PTI?
You are considered not eligible to apply for PTI if:
- You have previously gone through a PTI program or any other kind of diversionary program, or if you've gone through a similar program in another state for a felony offense. (New Jersey considers PTI a once-in-a-lifetime offer.)
- You are charged with a disorderly persons offense, petty disorderly persons offense, municipal ordinance violation, or other non-criminal offense. (Disorderly persons offenses are equivalent to misdemeanors in other states, and PTI is not considered for misdemeanors UNLESS domestic violence was involved.)
I'm Facing Criminal Charges in New Jersey, but I'm Not a Resident. Can I Still Apply for a PTI?
Yes, you can. However, to be approved, you will have to demonstrate an ability to submit to the supervision and counseling requirements even though you do not live in the state. That could mean arranging for a different kind of counseling program in your home state or hiring a New Jersey attorney.
Can I Qualify for a PTI if I Am Facing Multiple Criminal Charges?
Yes, you can. Many times, defendants are charged with more than one crime for the same alleged incident. You are permitted to apply for a PTI even if you're facing several charges.
Is There Any Situation Where PTI Is Not a Good Choice for Me?
Yes. PTI is effectively a good alternative for someone accused of a felony-level crime for which there is strong evidence against them and a high likelihood of conviction. In other words, if it's between a felony conviction and PTI, you would choose PTI to avoid the conviction. However, if the evidence against you is weak, a good defense attorney may be able to have the charges against you dismissed--or at least reduced to misdemeanor-level charges.
A Pretrial Intervention requires close monitoring, supervision, and effectively a reduction in privacy for about 1-3 years. There is very little point in making a 3-year commitment to a program that avoids conviction if you aren't likely to be convicted, anyway. For this reason, many criminal defense attorneys recommend waiting until "discovery" occurs before making a decision on whether to apply for PTI.
What Is Discovery?
Discovery (or "disclosure") is when the prosecution shows your attorney all of the evidence they have against you, and your attorney shows the prosecution the evidence that exonerates you. Discovery is an extremely important part of the pretrial process because each side effectively shows the other their hand so they can each prepare their case. Discovery basically lets your attorney know how strong the prosecution's case is against you so you can decide whether to a) apply for PTI; b) negotiate for dismissal, reduced charges, or a plea deal; or c) allow the trial to move forward with a high confidence that you'll be acquitted.
What Does the Application Process for PTI Look Like?
If you and your attorney agree that you should apply for acceptance into a Pretrial Intervention program, here are the steps that will happen:
- You will start the process by filling out the PTI application form. You can download the form directly from the New Jersey Courts website, or you can pick up a form at your local county courthouse. The form is a little complicated to fill out, so for best results, have your New Jersey defense attorney assist you with the form.
- Attach a special statement, if required. If you're applying for a PTI for a first- or second-degree offense, or if you have a prior conviction, you need to attach a separate statement explaining the merits of your case and presenting a compelling argument for why the prosecutor should consider you for the program. Again, your attorney is the best person to prepare this document for you.
- Submit your application at the criminal division office in the New Jersey county where you were charged. (See below for a listing of the location of your local criminal division office.) You'll pay a non-refundable application fee of $75 (which can be waived if you can prove you can't afford the fee).
- You'll attend an initial PTI interview. You'll have a meeting with a PTI probation officer who will get some basic information and evaluate the circumstances of your case.
- Your case will likely be investigated. While the prosecutor's office considers your application, court officials may interview you, your family, your employer, etc., to get as much background information as possible in deciding whether you're a good candidate for PTI.
- The prosecutor will make a decision to accept or deny your application. You'll receive an official notice in the mail as to whether you've been accepted into a PTI program.
How Important Is the PTI Interview?
The PTI interview is important, but it doesn't have to be stressful. At the PTI interview, the probation officer is basically obtaining background information about you and about the case, both to confirm the details in your application and to help the prosecutor determine whether you're a good candidate. The probation officer will ask you questions about your background, including information regarding your education and work history. The interviewer will also inquire about your case and review police records pertaining to your arrest.
The PTI interviewer has a lot of sway when it comes to recommending you for a PTI program. To improve your chances of a good recommendation, it's essential that you be upfront and honest about your case, including showing remorse and explaining why you're a good fit for the program. Do not worry about what you admit in the PTI interview—what you say in this interview generally can't be used against you by the prosecution. This interview is not about whether you are admitting guilt or confessing to the charges against you; for all intents and purposes, the prosecution already assumes your guilt by considering you for the PTI program. Rather, this interview is strictly for the PTI probation officer to assess whether the program is right for you.
What Happens While My PTI Application Is Being Considered?
While your application is under consideration, officials might investigate your case further. You should be prepared for court staff to interview you and your family, along with your employer, school officials, and any victims in your case. Officials may also meet with you to figure out a plan of counseling or supervision even before your PTI becomes official.
Do I Have To Keep Showing up for Court Dates While My PTI Application Is in Process?
Yes, you do. Until your PTI application is officially accepted, the prosecution of your case moves forward on schedule. You must show up for any/all scheduled court dates until you're informed that you have been accepted into PTI and the judge suspends court activity against you. If you miss a court appearance, a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
How Will I Know if My Application Is Approved?
The prosecutor's office will send you a letter informing you that your application has been either approved or denied. If approved, you will move forward toward meeting the stated conditions of the PTI.
Can I Appeal the Decision if My PTI Application Is Denied?
Yes, you can. If your application for PTI is denied, you can challenge that decision by filing a motion in court within ten days of receiving the notice of denial. The appeal will be reviewed by the presiding judge of the criminal division to ascertain whether the prosecutor exhibited a "patent and gross abuse of discretion" in denying your application.
Do I Have To Plead Guilty To Be Accepted Into a PTI Program?
It depends. Generally speaking, you are allowed to submit to a PTI program without entering an admission of guilt. However, for most criminal charges that require special permission from the prosecutor (i.e., first- and second-degree offenses, prior felony convictions, domestic violence/restraining order violations), you may be required to enter a guilty plea as a condition of acceptance into the program.
Why Are Prosecutors So Particular About Who Gets Into a Pretrial Intervention Program?
Prosecutors have a lot of discretion in deciding which cases to refer for PTI. In considering these candidates, prosecutors must walk a fine line between doing what's best for the defendant and protecting the interests of the public that they serve. PTI helps defendants avoid a criminal record and allows them to escape the stigma of having been convicted of a crime. But prosecutors must also avert any potential harm to their community. Prosecutors also want to make sure defendants don't abuse the PTI program. In some cases, the prosecutor may want to give you an opportunity for rehabilitation, but on weighing the circumstances, he/she may decide that you are at a greater risk for recurring crimes without a harsher sentence--or that the victim's rights need to be considered ahead of yours. Prosecutors could refuse to extend PTI to you if they feel that allowing your participation would violate the initial purpose of this program. Finally, the prosecutor must be convinced that you're capable of fulfilling the requirements. If he/she is not satisfied with your commitment level, they will deny your application for inclusion in PTI.
What Happens if I Am Accepted Into a PTI Program?
If your application is approved, all prosecution actions against you will be suspended while the PTI is in effect. As long as you meet all the conditions contained in the PTI, your charges will be dismissed when the PTI program concludes.
The PTI is a supervised program where you will be monitored to ensure you are meeting the conditions. The presiding judge who approves your request for a PTI will decide on the conditions to be imposed. You will be assigned a probation officer to whom you will report on a regular basis while the PTI is in effect.
How Long Will My PTI Be In Effect?
The term of your PTI will be established upon your acceptance into the program. Some PTIs last as little as six months, but they can last up to three years.
What Are the Conditions of My Pretrial Intervention?
Every PTI program has an established set of conditions tailored to the defendant according to what the prosecutor and presiding judge determine to be necessary and appropriate. Some conditions are standard, meaning they will apply to any PTI program in New Jersey. Other conditions are special conditions, meaning they are specific to your case.
The standard conditions for PTI include the following:
- Reporting regularly to your probation officer
- Being visited periodically by your probation officer
- Remaining consistently employed
- Reporting any change of address to your probation officer
- Seeking permission before moving out of state
- Paying certain agreed-upon fees
- No further arrests for additional offenses
Examples of special conditions for your PTI may include any/all of the following:
- Random drug testing
- Mandatory counseling
- Mandatory treatment for drug/alcohol addiction
- Community service
- Psychological evaluations
- Paying restitution to the victims
- Loss of driving privileges for the term of your PTI
To have your charges dismissed, you must consistently fulfill all the established conditions while the PTI remains in effect.
PTI Sounds a Lot Like Probation. How Is PTI Different?
There is a lot about Pretrial intervention that resembles probation. After all, many of the common requirements of probation are also present in a PTI program (e.g., regular check-ins with a probation officer, community service, random drug testing, etc.). However, there are three key differences between PTI and probation:
- You are not convicted of a crime under a PTI program. PTI prevents conviction, while probation is a sentence that accompanies conviction. Once you fulfill the obligations of a PTI, your criminal record is clean. Once you complete probation, there will still be a conviction on your record.
- PTI focuses more on rehabilitation, while probation focuses more on keeping you out of trouble. Remember, probation is in itself a sentence, while PTI is a voluntary agreement that helps you avoid sentencing by dealing with whatever underlying issues may have led to your arrest. The goal of a PTI program is to help you never get arrested again. The goal of probation is basically to keep you on the "straight-and-narrow" as an alternative to going to jail.
- If you violate your PTI, your case goes to prosecution. If you violate probation, you go to jail.
Community Service Is One of My PTI Conditions. What Does Community Service Entail?
Community service requirements are very common with PTI programs. The idea is that if you are willing to give back to the community that was harmed in some way by your actions, then you will value that same community even more. So usually, you will be assigned a certain number of hours of community service where you must perform service for a non-profit organization or government agency dedicated to improving the community.
Community service is performed without pay. It's a way of giving back to the community. (Many people perform community service as volunteers.)
- Examples of what you might be doing as part of your community service might include: Cleaning litter along roadways
- Assisting at a homeless shelter
- Making sandwiches for the needy
- Cleaning up public parks, playgrounds, etc.
- Conducting visits to senior citizens in nursing homes
- Building wheelchair ramps for people with disabilities
- Helping out at recognized charitable organizations (usually non-religious) like Habitat for Humanity or Boys and Girls Clubs of America
Some PTI programs require supervised community service in which you may have an officer attached to you while you complete your hours of community service so they can verify that your work is being completed. However, for most eligible programs, the organization or agency will log the hours for you and provide verification that you served the time.
Can I Choose Which Organizations I Volunteer for as Part of My Community Service?
In some cases, yes. If there are no specific instructions on your PTI regarding types of community service, you may be able to serve your hours at any eligible agency or organization that is helping the community--you'll simply need to get authorization from your probation officer first. For some PTI programs, the judge may want you to serve community service hours at specific agencies or doing specific kinds of work as part of your rehabilitation. (The judge has a lot of leeway as far as tailoring the PTI conditions to your case.)
How Many Community Service Hours Will I Be Assigned as Part of My PTI?
There is no set answer to this question: every PTI is different. If the judge decides to follow the sentencing guidelines for community service as part of probation, your community service hours could be as follows:
- For a first- or second-degree offense: 100-400 hours
- For a third-degree offense: 60-300 hours
- For a fourth-degree offense: 60-200 hours
However, the judge is not bound by these guidelines for PTI programs. Your hours of community service could be as low as 25-50 hours over three years, or they could be several hundred hours. It depends on what the prosecutor and judge believe is appropriate to your circumstances and your offense.
What if I Am Unable To Complete My Required Community Service Hours Before the End of My PTI Period?
If you come to the end of your PTI and you have not completed all the conditions (including completing your community service), the judge may revoke your PTI status and refuse to dismiss your charges. The prosecution of your case would then move forward, and effectively, you'd have spent up to three years in PTI with nothing to show for it. It is very much in your best interest to fulfill your community service hours as soon as possible once your PTI begins to make sure you don't run into this problem.
If you're having difficulty scheduling your community service hours (for example, due to job requirements), talk to your PTI probation officer about the problem earlier rather than later. With some advance notice, your probation officer may be able to come up with alternatives that allow you to complete your hours in time. If you come to the end of your PTI and you have just been unable to complete your community service, don't panic—just talk to your attorney. There still may be room for negotiation with prosecutors and the judge to accept your community service hours past the deadline—especially if you have been diligent in keeping all the other conditions of your PTI.
What Kind of Fees or Fines Will Be Assessed to Me in a PTI Program?
Most PTI programs include some sort of fines, but the amount varies widely. At a minimum, you'll probably need to pay $50 to the Victims of Crime Compensation Office (VCCO) and a fee of $75 to the Safe Neighborhoods Services Fund Assessment (SNSFA). The judge may also assess other fines and fees, and you may also have to pay for any required counseling or treatment. Finally, you may be required to pay restitution to any victims of the crime. You may not have to pay all these fines and fees at once—they could be spread out over the course of your PTI agreement to make them easier to pay.
Is It Possible To Complete My PTI Program Early?
Yes, it's possible. If you are being extremely diligent about fulfilling the conditions of your PTI (including completing treatment and community service hours early), and if you are showing positive signs of good behavior and rehabilitation, your attorney may be able to negotiate with the prosecutor and/or judge to move up the end date of your PTI program by a few months. However, bear in mind that this decision is entirely at the discretion of the prosecutor and judge, and they are under no obligation to release you from the PTI early, even if you fulfill all the requirements.
What Kind of Counseling or Treatment Will Be Required as Part of My PTI?
That depends on a number of factors, including the circumstances and underlying reasons for your charges and what the prosecutor and judge believe would be most beneficial to you. For some PTI programs, the defendant is not required to go through counseling or treatment at all; for others, treatment may be central to the conditions of the PTI.
If you are mandated to go to counseling and/or substance abuse treatment, you will enroll in a government-approved program in your area to fulfill this condition. The specific type of counseling or treatment will be appropriate to your situation and the circumstances surrounding your case. For example:
- If your offense was driven by an addiction, you might be assigned treatment at a rehab facility coupled with one-on-one addiction counseling and group therapy.
- If mental illness contributed to your offense, you might be asked to visit an approved therapist or psychiatrist for regular appointments--and to take all medications they prescribe to you.
- If domestic violence played a role in your arrest, you might be required to attend anger management classes.
The specific treatment requirements can vary widely because the prosecutor tries to tailor the requirements to the need. The idea is that if they can treat the root problem that caused you to commit the crime, you will be less likely to repeat the offense.
What Happens at the Conclusion of My PTI Program?
At the conclusion of the term of your PTI, the prosecutor's office will conduct a final review of your PTI to make sure you have fulfilled all the conditions satisfactorily. If the terms were fulfilled to the letter, you will be scheduled to appear at a final court hearing during which all charges against you will be dismissed, and you can move on with your life. You will have no conviction on your criminal record, even though you may have entered a guilty plea as a condition to your PTI. Your record will be effectively "reset."
What Happens at My Final Court Hearing?
At your final court hearing, you will appear before the judge with your attorney and the prosecuting attorney to review your PTI and confirm that you have completed all the requirements to the prosecutor's satisfaction. At this point, the judge officially dismisses the charges against you. As long as you have completed the requirements of your PTI, this hearing is basically a formality, and you have no cause for concern.
Could My Charges Be Reinstated at the Final Hearing?
Yes, they can—but only if you have failed to complete the conditions of your PTI. The judge will hear from both the defense and the prosecution at your final hearing, and the prosecutor can ask that the charges be reinstated if he/she believes you have not fulfilled all the conditions of your PTI.
Will My Record Be Automatically Expunged When I Complete the Program?
Technically, no. When you complete the PTI, the charges against you are dismissed, which means you will not have been convicted of a crime, and as such, there will be no conviction to expunge. Your arrest will remain as part of your police record and may show up on background checks, but you can request to have that arrest record sealed six months after you have completed your PTI. Also, the PTI only addresses the charges for which you requested it. If you had any prior convictions, they will remain on your record after the PTI is complete—although, if you are eligible, you may be able to have those convictions expunged through a separate process.
What Happens if I Fail To Meet the Conditions of My PTI Program?
If you fail to meet any condition of your PTI, the prosecutor may opt to cancel your PTI and kick you out of the program. At that point, your case is brought back to square one, the charges are once again in effect, and prosecution efforts will resume. You will be brought back before a judge, and you may have to serve a jail sentence for the offense with which you had originally been charged. You can also face more serious consequences if your failure to abide by your PTI was related to the commission of another crime, such as an assault or drug possession. These offenses would then be brought before the judge as separate charges, and you could face additional jail time or fines. Additionally, you will most likely not be given another chance to apply for a Pretrial Intervention.
What Sorts of Violations Could Get Me Kicked Out of the PTI Program?
Basically, you can be removed from the program for any action that violates the conditions of your PTI. If, for example, your PTI prohibits the use of drugs or alcohol and you are arrested for driving under the influence during the term of your PTI, you will likely be kicked out of the program.
Other examples of violations that could cause your PTI status to be revoked include:
- Missing required meetings with your probation officer
- Lying to your probation officer
- Failing a random drug test
- Failing to pay required restitution
- Losing your job (or not trying to get another one)
- Changing your address without notifying your probation officer
- Getting arrested for any offense, no matter how minor
What Happens to My Case if I Am Not Accepted for Pretrial Intervention, or if I Am Kicked Out of the Program?
If you are not accepted into the PTI program, or if you fail to complete the program successfully and are removed from it, your case will proceed like any other. The prosecutor's office will pursue whatever penalties for whatever offenses they have outlined in the charges. Here's an overview of what the prosecution process looks like if you're not in the PTI program.
First Appearance and Conditions
The county prosecutor's office will issue a complaint or the Office of the Attorney General in other cases. You may then either be re-arrested, or the court will issue a summons to appear in court. If you are eligible, the judge may set pretrial release conditions during this appearance. The conditions for your release could include:
- Not being arrested for any further crimes.
- Avoiding contact with the victim or witnesses.
- Respecting any reporting requirements imposed by the court.
If you fail to appear on your own, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest.
Since bail reform was passed in New Jersey in 2017, money bail requirements have been eliminated for most criminal cases. Instead, the court will conduct a Public Safety Assessment (PSA) to determine whether you are seen as a danger to society or a flight risk. Based on the results of that assessment, you may be released on your own recognizance (ROR), or if you're considered a risk, a motion will be filed to detain you until trial.
The prosecutor's office will decide whether or not to proceed with the case after the first appearance based on the case's merits and whether there is sufficient evidence to convict. This is done by reviewing the police reports, witness statements, and interviewing witnesses.
Substance Abuse Assessments
Studies have shown that drug and alcohol abuse contributes to a large number of crimes. If you have been charged with drug or property crimes, a substance abuse inspector may interview you before they go to trial to determine if you have a substance abuse problem. If you are suffering from addiction, the drug assessment report could recommend counseling, which may give you the ability to choose between entering a treatment program or being incarcerated.
In exchange for a guilty plea, a plea agreement allows the defendant to receive a reduced jail sentence or probation. If the evidence against you is strong, your attorney may attempt to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor--or the prosecutor may offer a plea deal to avoid going to trial. If you agree to the deal, the prosecutor and your defense lawyer will arrange a court hearing to implement the plea deal. You must sign a statement attesting that you have agreed to the plea and will enter the agreement free from any pressure from your attorney or the prosecutor. The judge may decide to reject the plea agreement if he/she feels the sentence is too lenient. If the judge accepts the deal, you will officially plead guilty to the lesser offense(s), and the matter will go to a presentence investigation. A plea deal can be reached at almost any point during the prosecution--before or after indictment and even before the jury reaches a verdict.
Grand Jury and Indictment
If the court and the prosecutor do not decide to downgrade, divert, or dismiss the case, then the prosecutor will present it to a grand jury. A grand jury is an informal group of 23 New Jersey citizens that are selected from voter registrations, driver's licenses, and tax rolls. The grand jury will hear evidence from the prosecutor and decide if there is sufficient evidence to indict you. An indictment is not a conviction—it is only a decision whether to officially charge you with a felony-level offense and take the matter to trial.
The grand jury will consider the evidence presented by the prosecutor and then decide by a simple majority vote whether to indict you. If the majority don't believe the evidence is sufficient to indict you, the grand jury will declare "no charge," and the prosecutor will drop the charges. The grand jury also has the option to downgrade your indictment to a lesser charge.
If the grand jury indicts you, you will go to an arraignment hearing within 14 days to have the charges formally read against you. If you plead guilty, you will avoid trial, and your sentencing will take place within 4-6 weeks. If you plead not guilty, the matter will go to a jury trial.
Status Conference, Disposition Conference, and Pretrial Conference
During these conferences before the trial, the prosecution and defense will resolve pretrial issues such as the admissibility of evidence and other matters. Pretrial case negotiations may still take place during this period, including plea agreements. The court will set a date for the plea cutoff, which is the end of all negotiations. The matter will go on to trial if the parties don't reach a plea deal.
Trial by Jury
At your jury trial, twelve jurors are selected to hear the evidence and decide on your guilt or innocence. The judge oversees proceedings and ensures that the trial is in compliance with New Jersey's laws. At the jury trial:
- The prosecutor and defense attorney give opening arguments summarizing the evidence they will bring.
- The prosecution presents evidence that the defendant has committed the crime.
- The defense lawyer provides evidence to show that the defendant didn't commit the crime.
- Each side has the right to cross-examine the witnesses of the other.
- Each attorney makes a closing argument that summarizes what they have shown during the trial.
- The jury will deliberate. If all 12 jurors agree that you committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, they will vote to convict. If they believe the prosecution hasn't proved your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, they will vote to acquit you, and you will be free. If the jurors are unable to agree unanimously on a verdict, the judge may declare a mistrial, and the process may begin again with new jurors.
If you're convicted, the judge will order a criminal division presentence investigation and set a sentencing date.
Presentence Investigation Reports and Sentencing
The Superior Court's criminal division has probation officers who conduct presentence investigations and report on them. The judge can use the presentence investigation report to help him assess factors such as your prior criminal records, life situation, and the severity of the crime. Although the presentence investigation report recommendations do not bind judges in any way, they provide insight and support to help them sentence you fairly.
The judge will usually consider the following factors when deciding the sentence:
- Recommendations and findings from the presentence investigation
- The extent of the harm and hardship inflicted on victims and their families
- Your prior criminal history
- Mitigating factors associated with the crime
- The past and present circumstances of the defendant
- Any aggravating factors that increase the crime's severity
The New Jersey criminal code limits allow for some discretion by the sentencing judge in determining the length of the sentence. The judge has limited discretion if the defendant agrees to a plea deal that includes a sentencing recommendation. Certain crimes, such as robbery or using a firearm during a robbery, have mandatory minimum sentencing terms. The judge must sentence the defendant at the least minimum term.
What Type of Sentence Could I Be Facing if My Case Goes to Trial and I Am Unable To Participate in a PTI Program?
That depends on several factors, not the least of which is the severity and degree of the crime you're charged with. The judge will consider the recommended sentence from the presentence investigation report when he/she decides.
In New Jersey, indictable offenses are categorized by degree, along with a range of recommended prison time:
- First-degree offenses (e.g., murder, rape, armed robbery) are punishable by ten years all the way up to life in prison. (These convictions cannot be expunged.)
- Second-degree offenses (e.g., aggravated arson, armed burglary) are punishable by 5-10 years in prison.
- Third-degree crimes (e.g., aggravated assault, burglary, theft) are punishable by 3-5 years imprisonment.
- Fourth-degree crimes (e.g., shoplifting, drug possession) are punishable by up to eighteen months of imprisonment.
First- and second-degree crimes also carry with them a presumption of prison time, which is why you must submit a special request to the prosecutor to have these charges considered for a PTI application.
Will My Case Automatically Go to Trial if My PTI Status Is Revoked?
Not necessarily. Remember, being removed from PTI does not mean you are now convicted of a crime. It simply reactivates your case in the courts so prosecution efforts can continue. Before your case goes to trial, there are still many opportunities for your attorney to negotiate with prosecutors, including reducing the charges, plea deals, and in some cases, full dismissal.
What Happens at the End of My PTI if I Fulfilled Most of the Requirements, but Not All of Them?
Pretrial intervention is a serious commitment, and the prosecution is serious about having you fulfill all the terms of the PTI agreement without fail. That means they reserve the right to request the judge to reinstate the charges if all the requirements have not been met at the end of the term of your PTI—even if you were assigned 50 hours of community service and you only completed 45, or even if you couldn't pay the full amount of the required fines.
That being said, the goal of PTI is rehabilitation, not punishment--and the prosecution and the judge can still be reasonable. If you and your attorney can present a compelling argument as to why you were unable to meet all the conditions of your PTI, there may still be room to negotiate, especially if you have met the vast majority of conditions. Some options on the table may include:
- Accepting the remaining requirements after the fact (e.g., incomplete community service or unpaid fines)
- Extending the term of your PTI agreement so you can complete the requirements
- Reinstating the charges but reducing them to disorderly persons offenses
- Rolling the incomplete requirements over into probation (you'll still have a conviction at this point, but your case won't go to trial, and you'll avoid jail time)
If you believe you won't be able to fulfill your PTI requirements before the deadline, talk to your attorney as soon as possible so he can explore options for you. It's always better to address the problem early than to wait until your final hearing only to have failed to meet your obligations.
The PTI Program Is a Long Commitment. Couldn't I Just Wait and Have My Criminal Record Expunged?
You could—but you'd be waiting a long time. First, certain crimes in New Jersey (e.g., murder, aggravated sexual assault, perjury) are never eligible for expungement, so once you're convicted, these will remain on your record forever. Second, for indictable offenses that are eligible for expungement, there is a waiting period of 10 years after completion of your sentence before you can even petition to have the record expunged. During that time, the conviction remains on your record and may continue to affect your employment and income opportunities. For most qualified candidates, it makes more sense to enter a 3-year PTI program and never have a conviction on their record than to serve probation and/or time in jail and then wait another ten years for their record to be cleared.
What Happens if I Get Arrested Again While I'm in a Pretrial Intervention Program?
If you are arrested for any offense while participating in the PTI, be it misdemeanor or felony level, your participation in the PTI will likely come to an end. Even if the charges are minor or have no relation to the original charges, you will probably still be kicked out of the program. Once again, the prosecutor will be given the discretion to determine whether or not this action warrants ending your participation in the PTI program and taking you back to square one with the original charges, which could potentially lead to a more serious sentence if they stick. If you do get arrested while on PTI, depending on the circumstances, a skilled New Jersey criminal defense attorney may be able to intervene and negotiate with the prosecutor to try and keep your PTI active.
Do I Have To Disclose My Pretrial Intervention Status on Job Applications?
No, you don't. However, if you're currently in a PTI program, in some cases, it may be in your best interests to do so.
In New Jersey, you don't have to tell employers about any arrests or convictions unless they ask—and even then, the law presents some restrictions about when they can ask. Your PTI status won't show up on any public records, but until your arrest is expunged (at least six months after your PTI is complete), it will still show up as an "arrest/charges pending" on your police report. If that notation could discourage an employer from hiring you, it might be a good idea to inform them that you are in a Pretrial Intervention program to give them context. Being in a PTI tells prospective employers that you are taking ownership of your mistakes and working on getting your life on track—a quality that may persuade the employer to hire you regardless of the arrest.
If you are more than six months past completion of your PTI and you've successfully had your arrest record expunged, there is no need to inform potential employers about your arrest or your PTI. You are legally allowed to say you have not been arrested or charged with a crime, and it will not show up on your background check.
Why Should I Hire an Attorney To Help Me Get Into a PTI Program? How Can an Attorney Help Me?
When you are charged with a crime, you always have the right to represent yourself, including applying to a PTI program. However, since the process is selective, it is not easy to convince a prosecutor that you should be accepted into a Pretrial Intervention program. Anything you say to the prosecutor directly could end up being used against you. A skilled criminal defense attorney will understand what the prosecutor wants and how to present your request in order to get the most favorable outcome.
Attorneys are trained to help you navigate the court system, and they can also help ensure that your rights are properly protected. Attorneys can ensure that the prosecutor and judge understand your personal situation and all of the factors involved in your case and can advocate on your behalf for a favorable outcome such as your placement into a PTI program).
Here are some specific things a good New Jersey defense attorney can do to help you get accepted into, and successfully complete, a PTI program:
- Evaluate the circumstances behind your arrest and your personal situation to determine whether you are eligible for a PTI program
- Evaluate your likelihood of being accepted into the program and strategize with you on the approach that has the best chance of acceptance
- Help you prepare your PTI application properly, including coordinating the submission of your application and monitoring its status
- Help you prepare a compelling special statement, when needed, to convince the prosecutor to allow you to apply to the program
- Help you prepare for your initial interview with the PTI probation officer to improve your chances for acceptance
- Present evidence and arguments to the prosecutor and judge showing that you are a good candidate for PTI, including a low risk of violence or repeated offenses
- Advocate on your behalf to ensure that the conditions of your PTI agreement are reasonable
- Help you understand all of the rules of your PTI, including what can lead to termination from the program
- Help you file an appeal if your PTI application is denied
- Intervene and negotiate with the prosecutor for leniency if you inadvertently violate the terms of your agreement to keep you from being kicked out of the program
In short, your attorney serves as your advocate throughout the entire PTI process, from the time you submit your application to when you meet with the probation officer for your initial interview through completion of your agreement. An attorney's involvement in the process gives you the best chance to complete PTI successfully and have your charges dismissed.
Where Will I Submit My Pretrial Intervention Application?
You will turn in your completed PTI application to the criminal division office of the New Jersey county where you were charged. Find the information for your county below:
- If you were charged in Atlantic County or Cape May County, turn in your application to:
Atlantic County Criminal Courthouse
4997 Unami Blvd.
Mays Landing, NJ 08330
ATTN: Jason Wertzberger, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 609-402-0100 ext. 47286
- If you were charged in Bergen County, turn in your application to:
Bergen County Justice Center
10 Main St.
Hackensack, NJ 07601
ATTN: Leslie Darcy. Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 201-221-0700 ext. 25007
- If you were charged in Burlington County, turn in your application to:
Burlington County Courts Facility
49 Rancocas Road
Mt. Holly, NJ 08060
ATTN: Shannon DeNise, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 609-288-9500 ext. 38081
- If you were charged in Camden County, turn in your application to:
Camden County Hall of Justice
101 South Fifth St.
Camden, NJ 08103-4001
ATTN: Mary Wiesemann, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 856-650-9100 ext. 43597
- If you were charged in Gloucester County, Cumberland County, or Salem County, turn in your application to:
Gloucester County Justice Complex
70 Hunter St.
Woodbury, NJ 08096
ATTN: Rosemarie Gallagher, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 856-878-5050 ext. 15363
- If you were charged in Essex County, turn in your application to:
Essex County Veteran's Courthouse
50 W. Market St.
Newark, NJ 07102
ATTN: Joseph Wright, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 609-571-4200 ext. 74104
- If you were charged in Hudson County, turn in your application to:
Hudson County Administration Building
595 Newark Ave.
Jersey City, NJ 07306
ATTN: Jennifer Sincox, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 201-748-4400 ext. 60160
- If you were charged in Mercer County, turn in your application to:
Mercer County Criminal Courthouse
400 South Warren St.
Trenton, NJ 08608
ATTN: Karl Goldenbaum, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 609-571-4200 ext. 74104
- If you were charged in Middlesex County, turn in your application to:
Middlesex County Courthouse
56 Paterson St.
P.O. Box 964
New Brunswick, NJ 08903
ATTN: Laura Schweitzer, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 732-645-4300 ext. 88094
- If you were charged in Monmouth County, turn in your application to:
Monmouth County Courthouse
71 Monument Park
P.O. Box 1271
Freehold, NJ 07728
ATTN: Kristy Smith, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 732-358-8700 ext. 87412
- If you were charged in Morris County or Sussex County, turn in your application to:
Morris County Courthouse
P.O. Box 910
Morristown, NJ 07960
ATTN: Daniel J. Kenny, Vice Chair, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 862-397-5700 ext. 75330
- If you were charged in Ocean County, turn in your application to:
Ocean County Justice Complex
120 Hooper Ave.
Toms River, NJ 08753
ATTN: Michelle L. Tierney, Chair, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 732-504-0700 ext. 64330
- If you were charged in Passaic County, turn in your application to:
Passaic County Courthouse
77 Hamilton St.
Paterson, NJ 07505
ATTN: John J. Harrison, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 973-653-2910 ext. 24295
- If you were charged in Somerset County, Hunterdon County, or Warren County, turn in your application to:
Somerset County Courthouse
20 No. Bridge St.
P.O. Box 3000
Somerville, NJ 08876
ATTN: Meghann Lipovetskiy, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 908-750-8100 ext. 13367
- If you were charged in Union County, turn in your application to:
Union County Courthouse
2 Broad St.
Tower Building, 7th Floor
Elizabeth, NJ 07207
ATTN: Robert Eppenstein, Criminal Division Manager
Phone: 908-787-1650 ext. 21250
Get Help Now With Your Pretrial Intervention With an Experienced New Jersey Criminal Defense Attorney
Almost no one, including you, sets out to get arrested. No one wants a criminal record haunting them. No one purposely wants to spend time in prison. So, if you have been arrested for the first time, it can come as a bit of a shock. Sometimes, it's just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes, it's mistaken identity. Sometimes, it's a simple mistake. And many times, the arrest occurs because you got into trouble due to a mental health issue or a drug/alcohol addiction.
Whatever the case, once you've been arrested for your first felony-level offense, you are now at a critical turning point in your life. You can continue down this path, get convicted of a serious crime, and possibly spend the next few decades stuck in the revolving door that is America's criminal justice system. Or you can try to stop the cycle before it starts.
That's the beauty of New Jersey's Pretrial Intervention program. New Jersey offers a rare opportunity for first-time offenders to avoid the serious negative consequences of a criminal record. Not everyone is accepted into a PTI program, and depending on the seriousness of your crime, you may have to present some strong arguments to convince prosecutors to accept you. But if you are accepted as a PTI candidate, it can give you the second chance you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and become a productive member of society.
The choices you make now can impact your future in dramatic ways. This is why seeking the guidance of an experienced New Jersey defense lawyer is absolutely critical to your future.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer who fights on behalf of his clients day in and day out. Attorney Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have many years of proven experience in all of New Jersey's 21 counties. They understand what prosecutors are looking for when considering PTI applicants, and Attorney Lento and his team know how to position you for your best chance of success. If you're facing criminal charges in New Jersey, don't miss the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have your charges dismissed and your criminal record expunged. To find out whether you are eligible for a PTI, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.