There are several ways for you to resolve a criminal charge in NJ, which ‘DIVERT’ the case from prosecution. Assuming you are guilty, you could plead guilty…but that may not be the best alternative available if a diversion is possible. Obviously, if you are not guilty, you cannot plead guilty and would need to contest the charge at trial…unless you were able to divert the case, without entering a guilty plea to do it.
When you are charged with a criminal act in NJ, your case will be assigned to either the Superior Court in the County where the act occurred; or, in the Municipal Court where it happened. This determination is made based on the grade of the offense. All Indictable level crimes (where the possible sentence is 365 days or more) are handled at the County level, and DP’s (Disorderly Persons graded offenses, where the possible sentence is less than 365 days) are most commonly handled at the Municipal level.
In each level of Court, for each grade of offense, there are diversion programs. Depending on the program you are entering, the grade of the offense, and the specific statute you are charged with, you will often not have to place a guilty plea on the record. That being said, there are some offenses, and one diversion program in particular, where you will have to enter a guilty plea to get into the program. Once you complete the program and are discharged from it, the charge is dismissed and any plea made to get into the program is vacated.
There are typical conditions that are attached to participation in these types of programs, like reporting to a case officer on a weekly or monthly basis, paying restitution, participating in community service, paying fines and costs, and sometimes a loss of driving privileges. The benefits usually outweigh these conditions, as you have not had to enter a guilty plea and if it was required it will be vacated and dismissed upon completion of the program. You will also be eligible to apply for an expungement of your record sooner than if you just entered a guilty plea and were sentenced.
There are however, limits on how many diversions you can have (you can have only one, and that means one, not one per State or one per arrest…); and, there are consequences under NJ law that if you get convicted before or after the diversion, on whether you can ever be eligible for an expungement. If you decide to use your ‘get out of jail free’ pass, make sure you understand these issues BEFORE you accept a diversion, by discussing them with a knowledgeable NJ criminal defense lawyer.
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No attorney-client relationship is intended, offered or established by this information, even if it is similar in nature to a situation you are facing. Should you be confronted with a criminal prosecution or investigation, you are strongly advised to consult immediately with an experienced criminal defense lawyer licensed in the State or jurisdiction where the charges are filed, with whom you will have an attorney-client relationship, and can obtain legal advice on how to best handle your issues. This direct consultation should be done before you make any decisions in regards to your legal issue.