New Jersey has several different diversionary programs available to defendants if the facts of the case meet the program requirements. Two of the programs are offered in Municipal Court, and the third program is offered at the Superior Court. Some like to call this the “get out of jail free card”; meaning if this is your first offense, you can enter one of these programs and at completion, your charge will be dismissed. The hope is that everyone makes a mistake and you will now know better and not make the same mistake.
The conditional discharge program in municipal court was quite popular back in the day prior to marijuana becoming legal in New Jersey. A defendant charged with possession of marijuana would enter the program for a year, and if the defendant stayed out of trouble, the marijuana possession charge would be dismissed at the end.
However, when marijuana became legal, the question arose as to what happens to all the defendants who used their one “get out of jail free card” on the marijuana charge? Do they now get a new freebie? Or did that count since technically, marijuana was not legal back when the defendant entered the program.
Today, our Supreme Court in New Jersey answered that question. In State v. Gomes, the panel of judges ruled that a person who previously received the benefit of a conditional discharge for a marijuana case in municipal court is not eligible in the future to enter a PTI diversionary program in Superior Court, even if the prior matter was expunged. The logic of the ruling is based on the fact that the program is to be used once. When the defendant used the program in the past for the marijuana charge, that counted as the defendant’s one time use and he benefited from the program by having that charged dismissed.