The three-judge panel continued in relevant part: A Track One candidate can be admitted to Drug Court only if the court sentences the defendant to special probation pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14. Track One candidates therefore must meet all nine eligibility criteria for special probation set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(a). If a Track One candidate does not meet any of the nine enumerated prerequisites, he or she is legally ineligible for special probation and therefore may not be admitted to Drug Court.
A Track Two candidate need not satisfy the nine eligibility criteria set forth in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14. However, pursuant to the Drug Court Manual and in accordance with Figaro, the trial court may in the exercise of discretion consider the eligibility prerequisites enumerated in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(a) as relevant factors that bear on the defendant’s suitability for Drug Court.
If the trial court determines that the candidate is legally eligible for Drug Court via either track, the court must next decide whether to admit the candidate in the exercise of sentencing discretion. The court must consider the TASC evaluation, the recommendation of the substance abuse evaluator, and the non-binding recommendation of the prosecutor. As with all sentencing decisions, the court must consider the applicable aggravating and mitigating circumstances delineated in the Penal Code. As noted, in the case of a Track Two candidate, the court may also consider the factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14(a). The foregoing sequence of decisions applies whether the defendant is a voluntary applicant for Drug Court or a non-voluntary candidate identified pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14.1.
In Clarke, the Supreme Court made clear that “a fair deliberative process requires that the Drug Court judge consider all of the relevant information available.” This includes the completed substance abuse evaluation and the evaluator’s recommendation. The Court concluded in that case, without considering the full measure of the defendant’s substance abuse history and the written recommendation of the substance abuse evaluator, the trial court could not have given full and fair consideration of defendant’s appeal.
There are no trials in drug court. It is often an assignment for prosecutors and public defenders who agree to work cooperatively as opposed to the adversarial manner of traditional criminal courts. The downside of this is that applicants do not always get the zealous advocacy that they deserve with regard to their application decision or alternate sentence.