PTI Program Admission Reversed: Appellate Court Decision

State of New Jersey v. Gregory Phelps

Docket No. A-0867-22

Decided January 2, 2024

Submitted by New Jersey Domestic Violence Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided the State’s appeal from an order directing defendant’s admission into the PTI program.

In June 2021, defendant got into a drunken argument with his sister’s boyfriend. During the altercation, defendant cut the boyfriend’s arm with a piece of glass, requiring stiches to close a deep laceration. A Family Part judge issued a domestic violence temporary restraining order (“TRO”) against the defendant, and he was later indicted for third-degree aggravated assault among other offenses.

Defendant applied for PTI. Because he was charged with a crime involving domestic violence under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, defendant’s application required a compelling circumstances letter be filed with it. Since the crime charged involved violence or the threat of violence, there is a statutory presumption against defendant’s admission into PTI. Defendant can overcome/rebut that presumption by demonstrating in his letter accompanying his PTI application that there are extraordinary and compelling circumstances that justify consideration of the application notwithstanding the presumption against admission. In his compelling circumstances letter, defendant’s counsel noted that the criminal charges arose out of a consensual fight, in which the victim placed the defendant in a chokehold. Defendant’s position was that he picked up a bottle to defendant himself and to avoid losing consciousness. Defendant also indicated this event followed from excessively using alcohol and stated that he had participated in counseling for several months.

In the State’s response letter, the prosecutor discussed all seventeen factors as required under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12(e). The prosecutor explained the factors that weighed in favor of defendant’s admission, those that weighed against, and those that do not necessarily weigh in favor of or against admission. The prosecutor rejected defendant’s application and concluded that, “there is nothing specifically exceptional or demanding which would require the entry into the PTI program in this instance, especially since defendant is a violent offender who poses a danger not just to this victim, but potentially to the community at large.”

Defendant appealed the State’s rejection. In his appeal, defendant contended that the prosecutor abused her discretion in rejecting his application for admittance into the PTI program because the prosecutor relied exclusively on the nature of the offense and the victim’s impact statement and further asserted the State did not have all the information regarding defendant’s attendance at counseling sessions. The trial judge found that the State’s denial was not “abuse of discretion” but rather was the result of “some information that was not . . . entirely fleshed out . . . and therefore could not be considered by the State.” As a result, the judge directed defendant’s admittance into PTI “with the understanding that it is an offense that required him to submit a guilty plea. The judge’s order admitted defendant into the PTI program for twelve months with conditions. The State appealed.

On appeal, the Appellate Court noted that the trial judge repeatedly stated the prosecutor’s rejection of defendant’s PTI application did not constitute a patent and gross abuse of discretion. The court found that the trial judge, “simply but erroneously substituted its judgment for that of the prosecutor”. This was clear error to the court. Therefore, the Appellate Court reversed and vacated the trial court’s order directing defendant’s admission into PTI.

At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to filing compelling circumstances letters in support of our client’s applications for admission into the PTI program. We work hard to ensure that our clients receive exceptional representation in order for them to receive the most favorable outcome in their case as a result.

We offer payment plan options to clients financially incapable of providing full payment upfront. If you are facing a similar situation to that of the defendant in this case, please call us to discuss the matter. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic County, Bergen County, Burlington County, Camden County, Cape May County, Cumberland County, Essex County, Gloucester County, Hudson County, Hunterdon County, Mercer County, Middlesex County, Monmouth County, Morris County, Ocean County, Passaic County, Salem County, Somerset County, Sussex County, Union County, and Warren County and any town including Audubon, Gloucester City, Oaklyn, Audubon Park, Gloucester Township, Pennsauken, Barrington, Haddon Heights, Pine Hill, Bellmawr, Haddon Township, Pine Valley, Berlin Borough, Haddonfield, Runnemede, Berlin Township, Hi-Nella, Somerdale, Brooklawn, Laurel Springs, Stratford, Camden, Lawnside, Voorhees, Cherry Hill, Lindenwold, Waterford, Chesilhurst, Magnolia, Winslow, Clementon, Merchantville, Woodlynne, Collingswood, Mt. Ephraim, and Gibbsboro.


Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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