PTI Program Appeal: State’s Discretion and Trial Judge’s Intervention
Docket No. A-2065-22
Decided November 13, 2023
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark
In a recent unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court of New Jersey decided the State’s appeal from a Law Division order admitting defendant into the Pre-Trial Intervention (“PTI”) Program over the objection of the Ocean County Prosecutor.
In December 2020, defendant caused an accident by making an illegal U-turn and crashing her car into another car. Both parties refused medical attention at the scene, and the other driver drove home. However, the other driver later learned she had sustained a fracture of the fifth metacarpal bone in her left hand. This injury required surgery and pins. Officers on scene suspected the defendant was under the influence of alcohol and was unable to successfully perform field sobriety tests when instructed to do so.
After being taken to the police station, defendant relented that she was on prescription medication (0.5 mg of Klonopin, 600 mg of Gabapentin, 60 mg of Fluoxetine, and 100 mg of Lithium). Defendant blew a 0.00% on the breathalyzer, demonstrating she had no alcohol in her system. However, a toxicology report confirmed the presence of 7-Aminoclonazepam, Gabapentin, and Fluoxetine in defendant’s urine. Defendant was subsequently issued three municipal court summonses for driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, and improper U-turn. Defendant was later charged by the State with the indicatable offense of third-degree assault by auto and the matter was transferred to the Superior Court.
Defendant applied for admission into the PTI program in September 2021. Criminal Case Management Office (“CCMO”) interviewed defendant and recommended she be admitted into the program. However, the Ocean County Prosecutor ‘s Office denied her application. In its rejection letter, the prosecutor mistakenly stated “defendant was under the influence of alcohol” when the accident occurred. The prosecutor relied on seven statutory factors it deemed to weigh against defendant’s admission into PTI and one factor that weighed in favor of her admission. All other factors were deemed to be irrelevant.
Defendant then filed a motion to compel her admission into PTI after being indicted on one count of assault by auto by the Ocean County grand jury. Defendant made numerous requests on multiple occasions, during the pre- and post-indictment process, to the prosecutor for a copy of the CCMO recommendation. In February 2023, the court provided defendant with the CCMO recommendation after the prosecution refused to turn it over.
In March 2023, the trial judge reversed the prosecutor’s rejection of defendant’s PTI application. The trial judge found that the prosecutor’s decision was the result of a “patent and gross abuse of discretion” because the prosecutor’s letter of rejection was grossly deficient and inaccurate, including saying that Defendant was “operating her vehicle under the influence of alcohol, ” and did not properly address all of the PTI factors. The court noted that the prosecutor also made almost no reference whatsoever to Defendant as an individual and offered no discussion concerning the defendant’s amenability to rehabilitation. Although the trial judge does indicate that the State does address each statutory factor, she found that the State’s proffered reasoning arises almost entirely from the components of the offense itself and the victim’s opposition to admission. The State appealed.
On appeal the State contended that its rejection of defendant’s application was not a patent and gross abuse of discretion since its decision to reject defendant was made after a thorough review of the facts of the case. The State also argued that the trial judge improperly substituted her judgment for that of the prosecutor.
After considering the arguments of both parties, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision that the State’s exclusion of defendant from the PTI program amounted to a patent and gross abuse of discretion. The court articulated that defendant’s application was not sufficiently individualized with respect to characteristics that make her amenable to rehabilitation or her suffering from a condition or problem related to the underlying offense. The court also believed that the State failed to appropriately consider all the required statutory factors in evaluating defendant’s application.
At Hark & Hark, we are experienced attorneys who represent clients in Superior Court for issues like the previously discussed case pertaining to appealing PTI rejections by the State because their decision to do so was a patent and gross abuse of discretion. 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.