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November 30, 2012

RE:     Opposition to Concurrence with Governor’s Conditional Veto of A-3096
(Permits Municipal Court Conditional Dismissal Program)

Dear Mayor:

A-3096, which would authorize the implementation of a conditional dismissal program in municipal courts for certain offenders, was passed by the Legislature but conditionally vetoed by the Governor.  The conditional veto language is now scheduled for concurrence by the Assembly on Monday, December 3.   While the League of Municipalities supported A-3096, as it was passed by the Legislature, we cannot support concurrence with the Governor’s Conditional Veto.

Please contact your representatives in the General Assembly and urge them to vote “No” on concurrence with the Governor’s Conditional Veto of A-3096.

Under the provisions of the bill, a defendant who is charged with a petty disorderly persons offense or disorderly persons offense may apply to enter into the conditional dismissal program, provided the person has not been previously convicted of any petty disorderly persons offense, disorderly persons offense or crime under any law of the United States, this State or any other state. A defendant may make an application to the conditional dismissal program after a plea of guilty or a finding of guilt, but prior to the entry of judgment of conviction. Conditional dismissal would not be available to anyone charged with a breach of the public trust by a public officer or employee; domestic violence; an offense against an elderly, disabled or minor person; an offense involving driving or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, intoxicating liquor, narcotic, hallucinogenic or habit-producing drug; animal cruelty and certain other offenses.

After taking into consideration the eligibility criteria, the defendant’s criminal history and the prosecutor’s recommendation, the court may approve the defendant’s participation in the conditional dismissal program and place the defendant under a probation monitoring status for a period of one year. If, at the end of the term, the defendant has not been convicted of any subsequent offense in this State or any other state, and has complied with any other terms and conditions imposed by the court, the court may terminate the probation monitoring and dismiss the proceedings against the defendant.

As passed by the Legislature, this bill required a person applying for admission to the conditional dismissal program to pay to the court a fee of $500, or, if unable to pay that fee, to accept other alternatives. Of the fee, $450 would be payable to the treasurer of the municipality in which the municipal court is located and $50 would be payable to the “Municipal Court Diversion Fund” established under the bill.

While the Governor joins us in welcoming this alternative to prosecution, he has asked the Legislature to lower that fee to $75, which would be deposited into the State’s General Fund. The Governor fears that the higher fee could “limit access to meaningful and necessary alternatives to traditional criminal justice adjudication to only those able to pay steep costs and increased fees.”

To the contrary, the bill allows the defendant to apply for a waiver of the fee by reason of poverty. The court may also permit the defendant to pay the conditional dismissal fee and other assessments in installments or order other alternatives. The court has several options available if it finds that a person does not have the ability to pay a penalty in full or has failed to pay a previously imposed penalty. The court may reduce, suspend, or modify the installment plan; order that credit be given against the amount owed for each day of confinement if the court finds that the person has served jail time for the default; revoke any unpaid portion of the penalty; order the person to perform community service in lieu of payment of the penalty; or impose any other alternative permitted by law.

We believe that the higher fees, applied to only those who can afford them, and the other available alternatives serve two important purposes. First, they impress on the defendant greater respect for the law, the seriousness of the offense and the value of a clean criminal record. Second, they provide compensation to the municipality, which can be used to offset some of the costs of local services, otherwise borne by law-abiding citizens.

Accordingly, we have urged the General Assembly to vote “No” on concurrence with the Governor’s conditions, which, we believe, go too far in lowering the bar for the privilege of participating in the conditional dismissal program. We would welcome the chance to discuss a reasonable compromise on this with any interested parties. If you have any questions on this, please contact League Senior Legislative Analyst Jon Moran at 609-695-3481, ext. 121.

Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

William G. Dressel, Jr.
Executive Director




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