By: C.D. Owens, Esq.
A diversion program is a form of sentencing, usually prior to or after a plea of guilt, but prior to a conviction for a crime in the criminal justice system. It is established to provide a means in deserving cases, usually always minor and non-dangerous offenses, to avoid a conviction and subsequent criminal record by allowing a dismissal of the case or deferred or reduced sentences upon completion of certain programs which usually included supervision, counseling and treatment. These programs are often run by police departments, Courts, county attorneys’ offices or outside organizations. The subject has broad application and we can only brush over it generally.
There are many kinds of these programs. They vary, of course, and are designed for a particular crime or set of specific offenses. For example, in juvenile cases, diversion programs are often used for first-time offenders to provide any help or guidance needed and in an attempt to stop any sort of criminal history before it begins. Juveniles, especially those caught in first time drug offenses, can be kept out of exposure to and influence by hardened criminals in jails or juvenile detention centers and can be helped by counseling and provided treatment with drug addiction and guidance with family issues that may be causing the delinquency. In the criminal context, such as a in shoplifting case, it may entail counseling and classes outlining the real costs of these type of offenses and requiring a certain amount of hours in community service. It is even applied in the context of traffic offenses – how many of us have gone to “traffic school” in lieu of having a speeding ticket on our record and paying a fine.
The general purpose is to provide such first-time or minimum offenders with guidance and assistance to help to avoid repeat offenses and further contact with the justice system while allowing them the chance to turn into productive members of society without the burden of a criminal record. In most cases, diversion represents far greater value for the taxpayers’ money than just tossing people into a cell. Don’t misunderstand. Jail and custody are absolutely necessary in many cases especially for serious, dangerous criminal offenses – but diversion programs in the right context can be just, if not more effective than punishment alone.
If you have been charged with an offense and want to talk about whether diversion may be available in your case, call OWENS & PERKINS at 480.630.2464 to schedule your free 30-minute consultation.