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Open Government Advocacy Project:
Milltown court questioned on varying outcomes for marijuna defendants

Issue Detail:

August 21, 2012 Hon. Karl R. Meyertons, Judge Milltown Municipal Court 39 Washington Avenue Milltown, NJ 08850-1219 RE: State v. Jamie, S-2011-000332 State v. Kenneth, S-2012-000030 Dear Judge Meyertons: I write both individually and in my capacity as Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project. I write today to find out if you can help us make sense of why your court treats some marijuana defendants differently than others. Before getting to this question, I need to clarify two issues. First, the Libertarian Party doesn\'t believe that the conduct for which Jamie and Kenneth were charged--possession of marijuana--ought to be against the law. Indeed, Libertarians oppose this country\'s failed drug prohibition and believe that re-legalizing the currently banned substances would make our streets safer (FN: See our policy on drug prohibition at http://www.lp.org/issues/crime-and-violence). Second, the New Jersey Libertarian Party has for years been trying to get municipal courts around the state to cease downgrading statutory charges to violations of preempted and/or unconstitutional ordinances. Not only do such downgrades violate a 1998 Attorney General directive, but they also subvert the criminal justice system for the reasons explained in our February 27, 2012 letter to the Middlesex County Prosecutor\'s Office regarding improper downgrades in the Dunellen Municipal Court (FN: The letter is on-line at http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012058iO//DunellenMCLetter.pdf) The bottom line is that many, or perhaps most, municipalities keep one or more preempted ordinances on their books, usually \"loitering,\" \"peace and good order\" or \"disorderly conduct\" codes, to which the municipal court prosecutors and judges downgrade statutory offenses in order to entice defendants to plead guilty. As more fully explained in our letter regarding Dunellen, these plea bargains keep the defendants from getting criminal histories or paying into the state\'s Violent Crimes Compensation or Safe Neighborhood funds. The pleas also benefit the municipalities by providing a lucrative revenue stream and easing the prosecutor\'s and judge\'s workloads by decreasing the number of contested matters resulting in trials. For the purpose of such downgrades, Milltown uses Borough Ordinance 983 (FN: I\'ve placed the text of that ordinance on-line here) and, through researching dozens of cases heard by the court in March through May 2012, many statutory charges are pled down to \"BO 983\" violations(FN: I\'ve uploaded five random cases on-line here that charge statutory offenses ranging from shoplifting to hindering apprehension and all of them were pled down to BO 983 and between $280 and $530 was assessed to each defendant. I have dozens more similar examples and will send them to you if you like). Now, to the question at hand. The Milltown Court, despite the Attorney General\'s 1998 Directive, pleads statutory charges down to BO 983, presumably to maximize the amount of revenue received and to minimize the number of hours of work for the judge and the prosecutor. And, while we will try complaining to the Middlesex Prosecutor, we don\'t expect much help given that he wouldn\'t even acknowledge our February 27, 2012 letter regarding Dunellen. We understand and grudgingly accept that despite the Attorney General\'s directive and the public policy considerations, Milltown is likely to continue downgrading statutory violations to BO 983 violations. What we don\'t understand however, is why different marijuana defendants get different outcomes. Specifically, why did Jamie (See pages 1 to 3 of the attached exhibits) who was charged with having \"under 50 grams of marijuana folded in a piece of paper\" receive a conditional discharge and pay $833 in fines, assessments and costs while Kenneth, who was charged with possession \"of over 50 grams of marijuana\" get to plead to BO 983 and pay fines and costs of $780? One would think that the defendant who possesses more than 50 grams of marijuana would get a harsher penalty than the one who possessed less than 50 grams. Even though the amounts of money paid are similar, the consequences of a conditional discharge are much more severe than the ordinance violation. First, the Conditional Discharge Statute (FN:I have placed it on-line here), can only be used once by a defendant. So, if Jamie re-offends, she\'ll face the statutory penalties. Yet, if Kenneth re-offends, he will still be eligible for a conditional discharge. Second, Jamie will be under \"supervisory treatment\" during her six month probationary term. During that time she may have to submit to multiple random urine tests and other requirements imposed by the program\'s administrator. Kenneth, however, having paid his $780, is free to go about his business with no further responsibilities. Third, the Conditional Discharge Statute subjects Jamie to a driver license suspension of between six months and two years \"unless the court finds compelling circumstances warranting an exception.\" Kenneth, however, doesn\'t have to deal with a driver license suspension. Can you give us some sense as to why Kenneth received the plea bargain while Jamie was treated so much more harshly? For the sake of fairness and consistency, if the Milltown Municipal Court is not willing to stop the downgrading process altogether, would at least give every defendant charged with a statutory offense with a BO 983 violation? As it is, it appears that the court has no set policy on how it dispenses plea bargains and that the process is completely arbitrary. Thank you for your attention to this matter. Sincerely, John Paff, Chairman New Jersey Libertarian Party\'s Preempted Ordinance Repeal Project cc. Mayor and Council Kenneth Jamie




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New Jersey Libertarian Party Open Government Advocacy Project: Milltown court questioned on varying outcomes for marijuna defendants. August 20, 2012.
URL: http://ogtf.lpcnj.org/2012/2012233ab/
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