On November 24, 2020, a three-judge appellate panel decided the Middlesex County case of State v. Samuel Chen. Two other defendants’ cases with the same legal issue were consolidated with this appeal. The principal issue under N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12 was whether prosecutors could require defendants to serve jail time as a pre-condition to participation in the pre-trial intervention (PTI) program.
Judge Sumners wrote for the panel in relevant part: These consolidated appeals require us to determine whether the State can deny defendants’ admission into the pretrial intervention program (PTI or program), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12, after they spurned the State’s offer to consider admission if they agreed to serve time in jail; defendants had all been released on their own recognizance (ROR).
PTI statutes and court rules regarding the criteria for admission make no mention of a prosecutor’s authority to require a defendant to serve jail time as a condition to be admitted into the program. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-12 and -13; Rule 3:28. Where statutory language is not clear, “we may turn to extrinsic evidence.” State v. Frank (App. Div. 2016) (citing In re Kollman (2012)). Legislative history is examined where the statute’s plain language is unclear or can be given ‘more than one possible meaning. When all is said and done, the matter of statutory construction will not justly turn on literalisms, technisms or the so-called formal rules of interpretation; it will justly turn on the breadth of the objectives of the legislation and the commonsense of the situation.
Before determining the legislative objectives of PTI, we must first address defendants’ argument that the Prosecutor’s Office conditioned PTI admission on their consent to serve jail time. The court chose not to address this issue, opining that it was only necessary to decide whether the Prosecutor’s Office properly applied the PTI statute. We disagree.
The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has a reputation for taking a hardline approach. Their position here is consistent with that reputation.