NJ Supreme Court Rules PTI Not an Option After Trial

As reported by the the New Jersey Law Journal, New Jersey’s pretrial intervention (commonly known as PTI), designed to divert less serious criminal cases from prosecution, is not available after charges have been tried and guilty verdicts are returned, the state Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

PTI is not now and never has been a sentencing alternative, and admitting an otherwise deserving defendant after a verdict frustrates the goals of early diversion, early rehabilitation and avoidance of the stigma of a criminal conviction, the justices said in State v. Bell.

They agreed with an appeals court that found a trial judge erred in allowing Sean Bell to enter the program after a charge of second-degree aggravated assault, which would have precluded his admission, was dismissed but also after a jury found him guilty of third-degree aggravated assault.

At Bell’s high school graduation party in June 2006, he and Thomas Schwab punched and kicked another guest, Michael Higgins, knocking him unconscious. Schwab and Bell were charged with the same offenses but Schwab was granted admission to PTI in consideration for testifying against Bell.

Bell did not apply for PTI until after his trial, despite the requirement of R. 3:28(h) that applications be made  within 28 days of indictment.

Overruling the prosecutor’s rejection, Ocean County Superior Court Judge Wendel Daniels found Bell entitled to PTI. He said Bell and Schwab were similarly situated and the prosecutor’s decision to deny Bell PTI was a clear error of judgment.

Daniels relied on State v. Halm, 319 N.J. Super 569 (App. Div. 1999), where the defendant was charged with first, second and third degree offenses in connection with a sexual assault. His timely application for PTI was rejected by the court staff and the prosecutor. After he was convicted only of third-degree cocaine possession, he moved for reconsideration. The motion judge said no but the Appellate Division reversed.

In Bell’s case, the Appellate Division distinguished Halm because Bell did not make a timely PTI application.

The Supreme Court agreed in a 6-0 ruling, saying, “Whether pre-indictment or post-indictment, an accused must apply for admission to PTI prior to trial.”

Judge Mary Catherine Cuff, writing for the court, said it was “of no moment” that a jury found the defendant not guilty of first- or second-degree crimes that might have barred his path to PTI.

She said the goals of PTI, first established by statute in 1979, “have been completely frustrated” by Bell’s admission to PTI, nearly four years from the date of the altercation that gave rise to the charges.

PTI admission in this case “not only thwarts the purpose of this particular diversionary program because the defendant has been found guilty of a criminal offense but also nullifies a valid verdict of guilt.

“We know of no authority that permits a court to nullify a valid verdict through the device of a belated application to a diversionary program,” she said.

Assistant Public Defender Dale Jones, whose office represented Bell,  called it “troubling” that he will receive a harsher sentence than his codefendant, absent any distinctions between the criminal acts of the two.

“People who commit the same offense ought to be treated the same way,” Jones said. “A decision like this kind of makes it, who’s got the best lawyer and who wins the race to the prosecutor’s office.”

Supervising Assistant Ocean County Prosecutor Samuel Marzarella said court’s decision, and its decision not to apply the Halm case, reaffirm the time restrictions on applying for PTI in the face of defense counsel’s arguments.

Defending A Drug Possession Charge In Pennsylvania

While drug possession is one of the most common and minor drug offenses in Pennsylvania, the penalties can still be severe. Depending on the type of drug and the amount, you could face costly fines and significant jail time.

Proving drug possession

Under Pennsylvania law, a conviction for drug possession requires proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that you:

  • Knowingly and intentionally possessed a controlled substance without a valid prescription
  • Knew the drug was an illegal controlled substance
  • Had actual or constructive possession of the drug

Under the doctrine of “constructive possession,” the police do not have to find the drugs in your pocket or in your purse. Rather, prosecutors need only show that you had knowledge of the drug’s presence and exercised dominion and control over it. For instance, if you placed marijuana in the glove compartment of a friend’s vehicle, you could be charged with drug possession. However, if a friend placed LSD in your purse without your knowledge, you should not face criminal charges.

Drug possession penalties

The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act of Pennsylvania classifies drugs into schedules based on their potential for abuse and other factors. Schedule I drugs, like heroin and peyote, result in the highest penalties, while Schedule IV drugs, which include small amounts of opium or codeine, carry the lightest. First offenders charged with possession of common drugs like cocaine, meth and LSD face up to one year in prison and/or a $5,000 fine.

Pennsylvania has specific laws addressing marijuana. If found guilty of possession of 30 grams or less, you can be sentenced to no more than 30 days in jail and/or fined not more than $500. However, if you have more than 30 grams of marijuana in your possession, the penalties include jail time of up to one year, a $5,000 fine and automatic suspension of your license. Depending on the other facts and circumstances, you may also be charged with possession with intent to distribute, which is a more serious offense. 

At Kardos, Rickles, Hand & Bidlingmaier, we know how devastating a drug conviction can be for your personal and professional life. Our Pennsylvania criminal defense attorneys work tirelessly to minimize the consequences of an arrest, such as obtaining a full dismissal of the charges or successfully negotiating a plea deal.

NJ Appeals Court Affirms Suppression of Contraband – Not Enough Evidence to Support Detaining Vehicle or K-9 Search

As reported by NJ.com, a New Jersey state appeals court has ruled that heroin found after a motor vehicle stop in June 2011 cannot be used as evidence against a North Plainfield man because police improperly detained the vehicle and used a drug-sniffing dog.

Appellate judges upheld a lower court’s ruling that there was an “insufficient legal basis” for a Warren Township Police Officer’s request to the Defendant for consent to search the vehicle or the use of the K-9 unit, according to the decision issued on Friday.

The “dog sniff” occurred nearly an hour or more after the initial stop, the decision states.  The Defendant’s employer owned the vehicle and later consented to a search, at which time police found six bricks of heroin in the glove compartment, the decision states.

“(The Officer’s) hunch was correct, but it was nothing more than a hunch and, consequently, insufficient to warrant a request to search or a dog sniff not concurrent with the stop,” the decision states.

The appellate decision rejected the state’s appeal of the July 2013 ruling to suppress the heroin as evidence. The Defendant, 38, has been charged with possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

He was stopped on June 10, 2011 for driving with excessively tinted windows, the decision states. The Officer learned that Defendant’s driver’s license was suspended, and he was unable to produce a current insurance card for the vehicle, the decision states.

Ferreiro suspected criminal activity due to “’(the Defendant’s) extreme and unusual nervousness,’ the fact that his ‘stories were a little different,’ and the tobacco shavings” seen in the vehicle, the decision states. After the Defendant refused to consent to a search of the vehicle, Ferreiro called in the K-9 unit, the decision states.

But in the initial ruling, Superior Court Judge John Pursel found that “there were insufficient facts to support a reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity,” the decision states.

“The employer’s consent to search was prompted by the improper dog sniff and cannot cure the constitutional violations that led up to it,” the decision states.