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Pretrial diversion programs offer an alternative resolution to criminal cases, allowing individuals to avoid jail time and a criminal conviction. These programs divert individuals out of the traditional criminal justice system and into a form of supervised release or probation. Successful completion of a pretrial diversion program can result in the dismissal of the case, while failure to complete the program leads to prosecution for the original offense.
What is a Pretrial Diversion Program?
Pretrial diversion programs provide a different approach to resolving criminal cases. Typically, when a person is arrested and charged with a crime, they either plead guilty and receive a sentence or plead not guilty and proceed to trial. However, pretrial diversion programs intervene in this process, taking individuals out of the criminal justice system between the arrest and the trial. These programs may be available after charges have been filed or even before the individual is formally charged.
The primary goal of pretrial diversion programs is to alleviate the burden on local courts by diverting low-level, non-violent offenses. These programs also aim to provide rehabilitation services to individuals who would benefit from them the most. By participating in a diversion program, individuals who are unlikely to reoffend can move forward without the potentially severe consequences of a criminal conviction or an arrest record.
Different states, counties, and cities may offer various diversion programs tailored to different offenses. Some examples include diversion programs specifically designed for:
- Drug offenses
- DUI offenses
- Theft offenses
- Domestic violence offenses
What Does the Program Entail?
While each pretrial diversion program may have its own unique components, they typically prioritize rehabilitation and restitution services that align with the nature of the alleged criminal offense.
For instance, pretrial diversion programs for drug offenses often involve:
- Completion of a drug rehabilitation or substance abuse program
- Drug testing and passing random drug tests during the program
- Regular status updates to the court or a program officer
- Maintaining stable employment or full-time student status
On the other hand, DUI diversion programs may include:
- Restitution payment to the victim, if the arrest followed an accident
- Completion of an alcohol rehabilitation course
- Use of an ignition interlock device in the vehicle
- Completion of a driver safety course
In addition to offense-specific requirements, most pretrial intervention programs generally mandate:
- Avoiding arrest or charges for another crime during the program
- Compliance with any active restraining orders
- Payment of all required program fees
- Completion of a certain number of community service hours
Many of these elements are also present in probation programs, and pretrial diversion programs are often administered by the same state or county offices responsible for probation.
Who is Eligible for Diversion?
Many pretrial diversion programs have strict eligibility criteria, often requiring individuals to have no prior convictions or a relatively clean criminal record. However, some programs may be more lenient and allow judges to make exceptions for individuals with a criminal history who would benefit more from the program than from traditional adjudication.
Regardless of the specific eligibility requirements, nearly all pretrial diversion programs require a determination that the individual is not a threat to public safety. As a result, individuals accused of violent offenses are rarely eligible for diversion programs.
What Criminal Offenses are Eligible?
In general, pretrial diversion programs primarily target non-violent misdemeanors. For offenses classified as violent or serious crimes, such as felony offenses, courts often consider the risk too high to release individuals into a diversion program.
Do I Have to Plead Guilty First?
The requirement to plead guilty before entering a pretrial diversion program varies. Some programs demand a guilty plea, while others do not.
The distinction between these two types of programs is significant. If a diversion program necessitates a guilty plea, it carries a considerable risk for the individual. Pleading guilty would waive any legitimate defenses to the criminal charge. Consequently, if the individual fails to complete the program, the case would return to court, and the guilty plea would lead directly to sentencing. On the other hand, if a program does not require a guilty plea, failure to complete the program would result in the case proceeding through the criminal process from where it left off.
Seeking advice from a criminal defense attorney before making a decision about participating in a diversion program is crucial. Pleading guilty can significantly impact the individual’s case, so it is essential to have proper legal guidance.
What Happens After Completion of the Program?
If an individual is eligible and chooses to participate in a pretrial diversion program, successful completion usually leads to the dismissal of charges or the dropping of the case. In some states, this is referred to as a “nolle prosequi,” indicating an unwillingness to pursue the charges.
For programs that accept individuals before charges are filed, completing the diversion program will result in the prosecutor dropping the case. For programs that accept individuals after charges are filed but before trial, the prosecutor will drop the charges, and the judge will dismiss the case.
In cases where a guilty plea was required, successfully completing the program can lead to:
- The judge changing the guilty plea to a plea of not guilty and subsequently dismissing the case.
- The judge concluding the case and sealing the guilty plea through the expungement process.
What Happens if I Fail the Program?
If an individual participates in a pretrial diversion program but fails to complete it, they will be sent back into the court system. The district attorney’s office will reopen the case, and law enforcement will resume prosecution.
If participation in the program required a guilty plea, the case will return to the criminal justice system during the sentencing phase. Since the individual had already pleaded guilty to participate in the diversion program, they will be unable to raise any legal defenses they may have had.
In conclusion, pretrial diversion programs offer individuals an alternative resolution to criminal cases, allowing them to avoid jail time and a criminal conviction. These programs focus on rehabilitation and restitution tailored to the specific offense. Eligibility varies, and while some programs require a guilty plea, others do not. Successfully completing a pretrial diversion program can result in the dismissal of charges, while failure to complete the program leads to the resumption of prosecution. Seeking legal advice before deciding to participate in a diversion program is crucial to understanding the potential implications and making an informed decision.