The issue presented in this case is the standard to be employed in determining the applicability of a conditional discharge pursuant to N.J.S.A. 24:21-27.
On September 13, 1984, defendant was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled dangerous substance, marijuana, in violation of N.J.S.A. 24:21-20(a)(4) and with possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of N.J.S.A. 24:21-47. Defendant appeared before the Morristown Municipal Court on October 11, 1984 and entered a plea of guilty to both charges. Defendant then moved for a conditional discharge pursuant to N.J.S.A. 24:21-27. Defendant stressed the fact that he had no prior involvement with the criminal justice system, was a college graduate with a responsible job, and was not likely to commit another offense.
The court denied the application saying, "The drug problem has become so serious in this area that I adhere to the statute very, very strictly and it seems to be there has to be more compelling reasons than simply that people made a mistake and, therefore, they won't do it again so they should be let off, as it were, with one bite of the apple."
The court went on to state that conditional discharge is inapplicable if there is a knowing violation of the law.
I'm also clear that where people have paraphernalia for the use of drugs that there's a knowing violation of the law and it seems to me that if you have a situation, if you have a situation for a conditional discharge or an application for a conditional discharge where it could be shown that there was an unknowing or unwitting violation of the law by someone who was either trapped or induced or otherwise duped into a violation that conditional discharge is probably the appropriate means to handle it, but where there is a clear and convincing situation where people knowingly possessed, knowingly use drugs, I just don't think a conditional discharge is the proper means for treating that type of person.
The court stated that, absent clear-cut reasons, its discretion should not be exercised to grant a conditional discharge. Defendant was then sentenced to a $150 fine; $25 court costs; $25 to the Violent Crimes Compensation Board and 15 days community service.
Defendant now appeals to the Superior Court claiming that the trial court abused its discretion and articulated an incorrect standard for determining conditional discharge applications. This court agrees and grants defendant's application for a conditional discharge.
The Conditional Discharge Statute, N.J.S.A. 24:21-27, provides in pertinent part:
a. Whenever any person who has not previously been convicted of any offense under the provisions of this act or, subsequent to the effective date of this act, under any law of the United States, this State or any other state, relating to narcotic drugs, marihuana, or stimulant, depressant, or hallucinogenic drugs, is charged with or convicted of any offense under section 20 (C. 24:21-20), the court, upon notice to the prosecutor and subject to subsection c. of this section may on motion of the defendant or the court:
(1) Suspend further proceedings and with the consent of such person after reference to the Controlled Dangerous Substances Registry, as established and defined in the Controlled Dangerous Substances Registry Act of 1970, place him under supervisory treatment upon such reasonable terms and conditions as it may require; or
(2) After plea of guilty or finding of guilt, and without entering a judgment of conviction, and with the consent of such person after proper reference to the Controlled Dangerous Substances Registry as established and defined in the Controlled Dangerous Substances Registry Act of 1970, place him on supervisory treatment upon such ...