Interviewer: Is getting into this program easy to do? Can a person do it without an attorney, or is it impossible without an attorney?
Lauren Scardella: For any case that involves an indictable offense, it’s not only inadvisable for a defendant to represent himself, but the judge generally won’t let somebody represent himself unless some very specific conditions are met. They really want to make sure that everybody in Superior Court is represented, because these are the most serious charges that we have in New Jersey. It’s very rare that somebody is unrepresented, even when they’re getting into PTI. There’s that old saying that says that someone who represents himself has a fool for a client, and that’s generally a true statement. Lay people just don’t have the experience or expertise necessary to represent themselves effectively at that level.
You also wouldn’t necessarily want to apply for PTI just because you don’t have any prior convictions. You still want to see the discovery and make sure that the State can prove its case against you. Maybe the State doesn’t have enough evidence and an attorney might be able to get the charges dismissed, or maybe an attorney would file a motion to suppress the evidence because it was based on an unconstitutional search or arrest. Reviewing the discovery, knowing the elements of the offense and the applicable concepts of the law are things that only a trained and experienced criminal lawyer will be able to do for you. If there are ways to get rid of the charges without burning your one‑time use of a diversionary program in New Jersey, that’s what you should do, and that really requires the expertise of a lawyer.