Criminal Diversion Programs: A Solution with Strings

We frequently encounter clients who, prior to retaining our firm, have had no previous contact with the criminal justice system. These individuals are often charged with misdemeanor offenses which derive from an incident involving alcohol, a small amount of drugs, a physical altercation, or some other incident which required a response from law enforcement. Clients who find themselves charged with one of these offenses are normally more concerned with a stain on their otherwise clean record and potential negative consequences in the future which could limit their professional opportunities. A criminal conviction, even for what most would consider a minor offense, could substantially affect one’s ability to obtain employment especially in this tough economy.

Our firm maintains a very good track record of negotiating an alternate disposition with the prosecutor assigned to these matters. Pennsylvania and New Jersey maintain diversion programs for minor criminal offenses but it is the responsibility of the individual and the defense counsel to investigate possible entry into these programs. Entry into these programs is not automatic and usually requires direct negotiation with the prosecutor, their supervising attorney, and in some cases the judge who will hear the case.

The primary benefit of an alternative disposition is a guaranteed result. I often explain to our clients that no attorney, ethically, can guarantee a certain result in a case that goes to trial. While an attorney may provide a very confident opinion of a potential outcome, he must nevertheless explain the possibility of a conviction. Diversion programs offer the benefit of a guaranteed positive result and normally provide the client with the ability to have their record expunged following completion of the program. While these diversion programs offer clients the ability to avoid trial, it is important to understand that each program maintains certain requirements which the individual must complete. Failure to complete the requirements of the diversion program will result in a person’s release from the program. Once a person is removed from a diversion program, his case is scheduled for trial and the only way to avoid a possible conviction is a successful defense.

Requirements of these diversion programs are based on the nature of the offense and usually consist of drug treatment, alcohol counseling, anger management, restitution, or a certain number of hours of community service. In some cases the programs even require a written apology to the alleged victim. While most clients gladly accept entry into a diversion program some often find it difficult in cases where they firmly believe that they have committed no misconduct.

If you are charged with a crime and have no previous criminal history it is important to discuss non trial alternatives with your attorney. These programs may be an option but they will require you to complete specific tasks. If your principles will not allow you to make these concessions, your only alternative is more than likely trial.