SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

 

STATEMENT TO

 

SENATE, No. 881

 

with committee amendments

 

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

 

DATED:  FEBRUARY 16, 2012

 

      The Senate Judiciary Committee reports favorably and with committee amendments Senate Bill No. 881.

      This bill, as amended, would modify the criteria for admission into special probation pursuant to N.J.S.2C:35-14, which is commonly referred to as the “drug court” program, to allow more persons to be eligible and have access to the program.  Additionally, the bill provides for the New Jersey Supreme Court to establish a two-year pilot program, to be operated in two vicinages, which would mandate admission to the program for anyone who is eligible. 

      The admission criteria for special probation are modified by making many of the statutorily enumerated factors for consideration by a court optional, instead of mandatory as under the current law.  These optional factors for consideration would include: the results of any professional diagnostic assessment the person has undergone; the person’s dependency on drugs or alcohol, if any, and whether the person was drug or alcohol dependent at the time of committing the offense; whether the person possessed a firearm at the time of committing the offense; and whether a suitable, licensed treatment facility is able and has agreed to provide treatment services to the person.

      By making such statutorily enumerated factors permissive for the eligibility review process, a court would have greater discretion to place the person on special probation, even if one or more of the enumerated factors was not satisfied when applied to a particular person.  Given the greater discretion provided to the court, the bill would require that the court make a record of all its findings relevant to a determination to place a person on special probation.

      Additionally, this bill would eliminate the statutory provision that permits a prosecutor to object to special probation if the person has two or more separate prior convictions for crimes of the third degree.  Under current law, if a prosecutor objected based on such prior convictions, the court could not place a person on special probation except upon a finding of a gross and patent abuse of prosecutorial discretion.  Removing the prosecutor’s objection would provide the court greater discretion to make a determination of program eligibility for a person with such prior convictions.

      The bill does not modify the current law’s mandate prohibiting admission into special probation if a person has a prior conviction or pending charges for murder, aggravated manslaughter, manslaughter, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault, aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, or a similar crime under the laws of any other state or the United States.  The bill also does not modify the prohibition against admission if the person is convicted of or adjudicated delinquent for: a first degree crime; a first or second degree crime under section 2 of P.L.1997, c.117 (C.2C:43-7.2), which is commonly referred to as the “No Early Release Act”; any crime requiring a mandatory period of incarceration, other than distribution of a controlled dangerous substance or analog on or near school property; or any offense involving distribution or the conspiracy or attempt to distribute a controlled dangerous substance or analog to a juvenile on or near school property.

      In addition to modifying the eligibility criteria to allow more persons to have access to special probation, the bill provides for the New Jersey Supreme Court to establish a two-year pilot program that would mandate access to special probation in two selected vicinages, one located in the northern region of the State and one in the southern region.  In selecting the vicinages, the Supreme Court may consider whether a vicinage has requested to participate in the pilot program.

      Under the pilot program, a person would be admitted into special probation so long as the person was not disqualified pursuant to any of the mandatory criteria prohibiting admission.  Further, a prosecutor would not be permitted to object to a person’s admittance into the program on any grounds, thus eliminating a court’s need to make a finding of a gross and patent abuse of prosecutorial discretion in order to admit a person who is otherwise qualified pursuant to the statutory criteria.

      Beginning one year after the effective date of the bill, and annually thereafter, the Administrative Director of the Courts would submit reports to the Governor and Legislature concerning the pilot program.  These reports would include the rates of completion and revocation for people admitted to mandatory special probation, the recidivism rates for graduates of mandatory special probation, the costs associated with implementing mandatory special probation, and any other information that may indicate the effectiveness of mandatory special probation.  The reports would also make recommendations concerning the practicability and feasibility of expanding the pilot program Statewide.