Drug Court Eligibility (Part 2)

by | May 14, 2020 | Blog, Criminal Law, Drug Crime, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division continued in relevant part: However, the State argued, and the judge accepted, that three specific references to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14 in the legal eligibility section of the Manual make it clear that the AOC purposely created uniformity in Drug Court eligibility under both tracks. These references are:

  • First, among other things, “the legal screening for drug court acceptance could involve a review of the following: statutory eligibility criteria contained in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14 or other statutory provisions in the code, if applicable.” Ibid. (emphases added).
  • Second, the prosecutor “should review the candidate for presumptive legal eligibility and then forward a letter indicating a recommendation as to legal eligibility.” Ibid.” A drug court prosecutor can recommend a legal rejection based on N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14 and whether the applicant is a potential danger to the community.” Ibid. (emphasis added).
  • Third, “an applicant’s acceptance into drug court should be based on the defendant’s clinical and legal eligibility, in accordance with the drug court statute.” Id. at 9-10. The State argued, and the judge found, the “drug court statute” was N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14.

In short, citing these three portions of the Manual, the judge accepted the State’s contention that all the legal eligibility bars contained in N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14 apply with equal force to Track Two applicants, like defendants.

As part of broader arguments asserted on appeal, the State reiterates that the intent behind the Manual was to foster uniformity and subject all Drug Court applicants to the same legal eligibility criteria, namely N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14, something the State says is consistent with the “historical move towards Drug Court uniformity.” It also asserts that the Court’s holding in Meyer, and our decision in Maurer, were “not incorporated into N.J.S.A. 2C:35-14,” and were rendered “moot” by adoption of the Manual. While acknowledging that the Manual should be clearer in addressing the preservation of two tracks and different legal eligibility for each, we reject the State’s contentions for a variety of reasons.

The most obvious reason to reject the State’s contentions is that the drafters of the Drug Court Manual do not have the power to moot binding Appellate Division and Supreme Court decisions. Statewide, drug court prosecutors seem to have an underlying hostility towards anyone other than what would be considered an “ideal applicant”, namely, someone with a long history of victimless drug possession offenses and none of the attendant theft and drug-distribution offenses that go hand-in-hand with addicts with no other means to fund their addictions.