All criminal offenders in the U.S go through the justice system, after which they receive a sentence upon conviction. However, states like California have realized that low-level offenders can benefit more from counseling and training than punishment. A first offender facing a misdemeanor charge can qualify for a particular diversion program geared toward reformation rather than punishment. It gives them a chance to reconsider their actions for a more joyous living. Diversion programs also save the taxpayer a considerable amount of money since the criminal justice system involves several costly processes.

It is essential to know all about special diversion programs for first offenders and how they can benefit you or your loved one. For more information and legal guidance, contact a competent criminal lawyer.

How Diversion Works

Diversion programs are alternative resolutions of criminal cases whereby defendants go through an alternative program and not the usual criminal process, conviction, and incarceration. Typically, a person must go through a criminal process if arrested and charged for a criminal offense. The process begins from the time of their arrests and ends after they have successfully served their punishment. The adult criminal process in California is meant to punish wrongdoers for their criminal acts to discourage similar behavior in the future and as a warning for others against criminal behavior. But a diversion offers an alternative to first offenders out of the usual criminal process and into a more beneficial program.

Diversion programs work almost the same as probation, in that the defendant is supervised right from the start until they complete the program to which they have been assigned. But a defendant enters the program before conviction, which makes it different from probation. The judge offers you a chance to join a treatment program instead of taking you through several trials and hearings. If you complete the program, it could lead to a dismissal of your criminal case. It means that first offenders that successfully go through diversion programs do not go through the criminal process. The courts dismiss their charges once they complete the training programs. But those who fail to complete their program are not lucky enough, as they face prosecution for their original offenses.

A diversion program identifies offender characteristics and crimes that will allow the defendant to enter a particular program based on the details of their offense. In some cases, defendants are diverted into programs where they receive counseling early in the criminal process. The defendant does not need to go through a trial to plead guilty/no contest to receive diversion in other programs. But some diversion programs require the defendant to plead guilty to the underlying charges to be diverted. But, their punishment is suspended until they complete diversion. If the defendant successfully goes through the diversion program, the court dismisses their sentence.

Typically, defendants pay for the diversion programs. Payment could be in the form of a fee paid to the court, the treatment center, or both. The cost is sometimes more than the court fine for a particular offense. The amount depends on the treatment you require under the program.

Diversion programs go from six months to one year. Some can go beyond one year, depending on the need. They primarily emphasize treatment, counseling, and behavior change. That seems better and more productive than taking punitive measures against a first-offender. The judge gives the defendants conditions they must meet during that period. For instance, defendants must agree to attend all classes offered under the program, undergo vocational training, participate in individual and/or group counseling or therapy, participate in community service, and pay court fines and restitution to their victims( if any).

Once a defendant completes the program, they must go back to the court where the diversion was granted. The judge will go through all reports received from the person in charge of the program where the defendant was sent. If indeed the defendant has completed the program and has abided by all conditions given by the court, the judge will dismiss their case. Once your case is dismissed, your arrest record will not be sealed or destroyed. It would be best to petition the court to expunge your arrest record or close your case record.

On the other hand, if you have not completed the diversion program or have not adhered to all the terms and conditions given by the judge at the beginning of the program, your case will return to the court. If you entered a guilty plea or plea of no contest before the program's start, the judge has the discretion to convict you of the underlying offense. If you failed in the program and had not entered a guilty plea or plea of no contest before the diversion program, you will be required to enter one. The case will then proceed accordingly.

Qualifying for a Diversion

Special diversion programs are not designed for all defendants. Some qualify for diversion, while others go through the criminal process. It is essential to know what could be eligible for a special diversion if you face criminal charges in California.

First, special diversion programs are designed for first offenders. You could qualify if you do not have any criminal background. It means that you must not have a record of arrest in your criminal background. If it is your first time being arrested, you could try seeking a diversion from the beginning of your criminal process.

Second, you must face charges for specific offenses provided under the law. Legislators have identified specific crimes that could qualify an offender for diversion. The violations are typically low-level, non-violent crimes like personal possession of some drugs, petty theft, child abuse, child neglect, domestic violence, and DUI. You could qualify for diversion if you face assault charges, provided that the offense involves minor or no injuries. It helps determine whether you are eligible for diversion based on your charges before proposing it to the judge. In that case, speak to a skilled criminal lawyer for advice and guidance.

Some special diversion programs are a little lenient on defendants that can join. They all have eligibility requirements, but judges can make exceptions for offenders with a criminal record if those defendants can benefit more from the program than the criminal process. Judges review applications on a case-to-case basis to ensure that anyone that fits better in a diversion program is not left out and is given a second chance in life. But, the judge must first be sure that you are not a threat to public safety. That explains why defendants with a violence-related history rarely qualify for special diversion programs.

Types of Special Diversion Programs in California

Diversion programs in California serve the same purpose as similar programs in other states. They allow qualified defendants to undergo treatment, counseling, and training to skip jail time. There are three main pretrial diversion programs in California, designed to serve the needs of various defendants according to the nature of the charges they face.

Drug Diversion Programs

Drug diversion is under California PC 1000. It is a program designed for non-violent offenders that face drug-related misdemeanors. The judge dismisses their charges once they complete the necessary treatment and meet other conditions set by the court.

If you choose a drug-diversion program, the judge will assign you a list of treatments you must undergo. You will then waive your right to a speedy trial. The court will then give you a timeline through which you must complete the list of treatments. The list could include treatment for substance abuse, alcohol, other additional classes, and payment of court fines and restitution.

Once you complete the required treatment list within the given period, the judge will dismiss your charges. You will also be eligible for expungement and sealing of your criminal records. But, if you do not complete the program, the judge will reopen your case. Then, you could be convicted and penalized according to the law.

Here are some of the offenses that could qualify you for a drug diversion program in California:

  • California PC 381 possession of a toxic substance for huffing
  • California PC 647(f) public intoxication
  • Business & Professions Code 4060 possession of controlled substances
  • Health & Safety Code 11350 Possession of controlled substances
  • California PC 653(d) Soliciting an offense to cause another person to use narcotics personally
  • California VC 23222(b) having an open pot of marijuana in a vehicle
  • California HS 11357 Illegal possession of marijuana
  • California HS 11358 Illegal cultivation of marijuana for own use
  • California HS 11364 Possession of drugs paraphernalia
  • California HS 11365 aiding and abetting illegal use of controlled drugs

Mental Health Diversion

The program is available under California PC 1001.36. It allows defendants with mental disorders to receive appropriate care if they face criminal charges. The judge could order counseling and therapy sessions, and sometimes drug treatment. Treatment plans for mental-health-related cases could last two years. These programs offer both inpatient and outpatient programs according to individual needs.

After completing the treatment program, the court will dismiss your criminal charges and seal your records. Note that this is a fairly new program in California. It offers relief to almost all criminal charges, including misdemeanors and felonies. But, some offenses are exempted under this law. They include:

  • California PC 187 murder
  • California PC 192(a) voluntary manslaughter
  • California Penal Codes 261, 261.5, and 262 Rape
  • Sex-related crimes that would necessitate the defendant to register as a state sex offender once convicted
  • PC 220 assault intending to commit sodomy, rape, or oral copulation
  • PC 264.1 Sex in concert
  • PC 288 lewd or lascivious acts with a minor below 14
  • PC 288.5 Continuously abusing a minor sexually
  • Specific acts of terrorism

It would be best if you were to meet all of these conditions to take part in a mental health diversion program:

  • Have a diagnosis of a mental health illness
  • Your diagnosis must not be a borderline personality disorder, pedophilia, or antisocial personality disorder
  • An expert in mental health must attest that your condition played a vital part in the offense you committed
  • An expert must ascertain that you will respond to the treatment recommended
  • You must waive your right to a speedy trial
  • You must agree to undergo treatment
  • The court must not think that you will be a risk to public safety

Some mental health illnesses that qualify for this treatment program are bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Military Diversion

The military diversion program is under California PC 1001.81. The program is only available for veterans and active members of the U.S military. The military man/woman must face misdemeanor charges for lenient offenses like possession of controlled drugs for personal use and DUI.

The qualifying criteria for military diversion are more intense. The defendant must prove that being in the military service has caused them to suffer from any or more of the following:

  • A mental health illness
  • Sex trauma
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Drug or substance abuse
  • ¬†Post-traumatic stress disorder

The court will then impose terms and conditions that you must abide by while in the program. They could include counseling and therapy, drug and substance abuse treatment, probation, and payment of court fines and restitution to the victim (if any).

Failure to complete a military diversion program will result in a criminal process for the underlying offense. If you fail to meet all the set terms and conditions, the same will apply.

Find a Competent Criminal Lawyer Near Me

Do you or someone you know face misdemeanor charges in Los Angeles and would like to benefit from a special diversion program?

First, it is crucial to understand how these programs work, how you can qualify, and the conditions you must meet before requesting one. For that, you need the help of an experienced criminal lawyer. We handle requests for special diversion programs at the Law Office of Sara L. Caplan. Thus, we could have all the information you need to make the right decision if you wish to avoid the criminal process to receive the much-needed treatment. Our team of highly skilled and experienced criminal lawyers will also guide you through the process until the court dismisses your charges and seals your criminal records. Call us at 310-550-5877 for more information and quality legal support.