New Jersey Supreme Court Issues Important Ruling on Pretrial Intervention, Which Is Still Not Available in DWI Cases

Pretrial intervention (PTI) is a program operated by the New Jersey court system that allows defendants the chance to avoid the ordinary criminal prosecution process. Although it is not available to people charged with driving while intoxicated (DWI), it is still worth understanding because traffic stops and DWI arrests sometimes lead to criminal charges instead of, or in addition to, a DWI charge. The New Jersey Supreme Court recently considered the question of whether the state could deny admission to a PTI program based on prior dismissed charges or arrests. The case, State v. K.S., began with an arrest for alleged DWI, which led to additional criminal charges. The court held that the state cannot infer guilt based only on an arrest or a charge, and therefore it cannot keep a defendant out of PTI based on charges that were dismissed.

Defendants who qualify for the PTI program can avoid criminal prosecution in New Jersey courts. Participants in PTI may be ordered to perform community service, pay restitution, and complete other services. They must also avoid any further criminal trouble during their time in the program. If they complete the program, which can take up to 36 months, the case is dismissed, and they may be eligible to have the charge and arrest expunged from their record. Failure to meet any of these requirements results in the return of the case to the criminal docket.

New Jersey court rules and statutes set out the criteria for prosecutors and PTI program directors to consider regarding admission to the program. The program typically excludes people with prior convictions, people who are on parole or probation, and people who have previously been admitted to PTI or a similar program. DWI and related offenses are considered traffic offenses under New Jersey law, not criminal offenses. Defendants are therefore not eligible for PTI on the basis of a DWI charge.

The defendant in the K.S. case was arrested and charged with DWI and refusal to submit to a breath test. He allegedly became “agitated” during transport to the police station, and police claimed that he struck an officer. He was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault on an officer and other offenses. The PTI program director rejected his application to the program because of “the assaultive nature of the offense” and a “pattern of past anti-social behavior.” A denial of admission to PTI is subject to appeal to the court, but a defendant must show “patent and gross abuse of discretion” by the prosecutor or PTI program director. The trial court affirmed the denial of admission.

By the time the case reached the New Jersey Supreme Court, two issues were in dispute:  whether the director could infer guilt from the defendant’s prior arrests, none of which resulted in a conviction, and whether the director should have considered the defendant’s history of mental illness. The Supreme Court reversed the lower courts on the issue of prior arrests, holding that the state cannot use “prior dismissed charges alone as evidence of a history of and propensity for violence or a pattern of anti-social behavior.” It remanded the case for reconsideration of the defendant’s PTI application.

A DWI charge in New Jersey can seriously affect your life. You may need the assistance of an experienced and knowledgeable DWI attorney to protect your rights and mount an effective defense. We have dedicated 100% of our law practice at Levow & Associates to defending DWI cases, and we are available 24/7 for you. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us online or at (877) 975-3399.

More Blog Posts:

Supreme Court Rules that Traffic Stop Was Lawful, Despite Police Officer’s Misunderstanding of Traffic Law, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, January 20, 2015

Is There a Right to Trial by Jury in New Jersey DWI Cases? New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, December 22, 2014

Other Offenses Commonly Associated with DWI in New Jersey, New Jersey DWI Attorney Blog, December 6, 2014

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