Interviewer: When you have clients call you, do a lot of them know about these programs, or do they have no idea?
Lauren Scardella: A lot of them are familiar with the concept of first-offender programs. I’ll get people asking about PTI a lot on disorderly persons offenses, or they’ll have friends who’ve had PTI or a conditional discharge, so yes, they often do call knowing that there’s some sort of program out there that they may be eligible for. It’s just that because there are three programs, they’re not always sure which one that might be.
Interviewer: Do people want them? Do they say, “Oh, can you just get me into that?” Are people of the “Let me just get it over with” sense, or are they hesitant about them?
Lauren Scardella: I think that they do want them. For some people it really does seem like the best option for them from the beginning, and that may be because they know that they really did commit the offense that they’re charged with and they’re not looking at it through the eyes of an attorney, who looks at it as, “Can the State prove this?” They’re looking at it from their own perspective, which is, “I did this, and therefore I should get this program and not have to deal with harsher consequences,” rather than looking at it as, “Can the State prove this against me, even though I know I did it?”
Interviewer: You’ve got to go through an education process with people when they call, to really describe all this stuff.
Lauren Scardella: Right. The way we describe it to people is, “Before you burn this one‑time program, this one and only bite of the apple, don’t you want to make sure that the State really can prove it?” Most people agree that they do want that. I’ve had cases where the State never produced a lab report, and I had an order from a judge that said that the State needed to provide a lab report by a certain date. When they hadn’t done it, the case got dismissed. It’s to their benefit to look at everything and make sure the State really can prove it, rather than just give in and take a diversionary program because it is easy to do it.
Interviewer: Do you get a lot of second‑time offender people that want this program, but their hopes are dashed?
Lauren Scardella: Occasionally, but I think once a person has had a first‑time offender program, they are pretty well educated about the fact that they can’t have it again.
Interviewer: What are some of the misconceptions people have about these diversionary programs?
Lauren Scardella: I think that they think that they can have it more than once sometimes, although not always. They think that they can have PTI in municipal court, which they can’t, although now with the new conditional discharge program there’s something very similar. That used to not be the case, so that certainly dashed their hopes plenty in the past. It is also very common for people to believe that their record has been expunged after the dismissal of their charges, but that isn’t the case. In order for there to be no record of their arrest or participation in a diversionary program, they will have to file a petition for expungement. Until an expungement is granted, the defendant still has an arrest record, although it will show that the charges were dismissed.
Interviewer: Do they also think it’s a shoe‑in, like, “Get me into this program and we’re done”?
Lauren Scardella: It depends on the person. Somebody who knows a lot of people who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system in one way or another might be a little bit more educated about it and be like, “Yeah, just get me into PTI,” but I’ve had clients who are 60 years old and they’re charged with something, and they just have no idea about the criminal justice system at all. They don’t know what PTI is, and sometimes they have difficulty even understanding it after it’s been explained to them because it’s all so new to them. I think it just depends a lot on what kind of life the person leads and if they know people who have been in similar situations.