Last month, the state Supreme Court ruled that a defendant who has already been to trial and received a guilty verdict cannot seek to use the state’s pretrial intervention, criminal attorneys in New Jersey report. To do so would be to circumvent the original purpose of the intervention, and would detract from the appellate court process.
New Jersey’s pretrial intervention (PTI) system is designed to intercede in less serious criminal cases, and offers alternatives to trial and traditional sentencing for these defendants. The goal of PTI is to deflect these cases, and provide opportunities for early rehabilitation, while allowing defendants to avoid the public shame associated with a long-term criminal record. PTI is not to be used as an alternative to sentencing, the state Supreme Court justices ruled, nor should it be used to overturn or dispute an unfavorable verdict.
In State v. Bell, the state Supreme Court found that a trial judge was wrong to allow Sean Bell, a New Jersey man charged with aggravated assault, to enter the program. Bell, along with another local man, was charged with kicking and punching a guest as his 2006 graduation party, rendering the victim unconscious. The other defendant, Thomas Schwab, was also held for aggravated assault, but entered into the PTI program before trial, in consideration for his testimony against Bell.
R. 3:28(h) requires that all defendants apply for PTI within 28 days of indictment, but Bell did not complete his application in time, and was rejected. However, a Superior Court judge overturned the rejection, using the 1999 case State v. Halm to back up his decision. In Halm, a defendant facing charges for first-, second-, and third-degree sexual assault offenses was rejected for PTI even though his application had been submitted within the timeframe required. After he was only convicted of third-degree cocaine possession, the appellate division granted his application for PTI.
But in his case, Bell’s delay in submitting his PTI application disqualifies him automatically, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously, and the decision made in Halm does not qualify. “Whether pre-indictment or post-indictment, an accused must apply for admission to PTI prior to trial,” the judges wrote. Judge Mary Catherine Cuff wrote further that the goals of PTI, first passed into state statute in 1979, were “completely frustrated” by the decision to admit Bell to the program almost four years after the incident that resulted in the man’s charges.
The pretrial intervention program cannot nullify a valid guilty verdict from a jury, and because Bell was already convicted, that verdict should not be overturned in favor of using the PTI program post-trial, criminal attorneys in New Jersey say.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our criminal attorneys represent persons charged with criminal activity at every stage of the process—starting with the examination of pretrial options, including pretrial interventions. If you are facing criminal charges, admission into the state’s PTI program may be a good choice, especially if you can avoid getting a criminal record. Contact an HCK criminal attorney to discuss your case today.