For many young people, new freedoms, pressure from friends and the desire to take risks will lead to a mistake or two. It’s part of growing up and becoming more mature. But some mistakes come with steeper consequences than others: consequences that can limit an individual’s future instead of allowing for growth and improvement. 

Young people who have been convicted of a crime—even a minor one, like marijuana possession or shoplifting—suffer from the long-term impacts of a criminal record. It can hinder their ability to attend the college of their choice, pursue the career of their dreams or even obtain a lease on a first apartment. Pre-trial diversion programs can help youthful offenders avoid some of the pain and challenges that come with a criminal record. 

What is a pretrial diversion program? 

Typically, defendants are prosecuted through the criminal justice system, facing consequences like jail time, probation, fines and community service. Pre-trial diversion programs still require restitution from the defendant but often without the burden of a lifelong criminal record.

Pre-trial diversion programs are not available to every defendant or in every court. They’re most commonly offered up to first-time offenders who’ve been charged with a nonviolent crime, like the underage possession of alcohol or marijuana, shoplifting or, in some cases, felony drug possession. 

Programs differ tremendously depending on the city, county and court. While some are quite informal, others have strict requirements and complex fee structures. The Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office, for example, places offenders in two tracks based on drug use. Participants must call in each night to determine if they need to report for random drug screens the following day, being sure to pay all lab fees in full. 

Drug testing is a common requirement of many pre-trial diversion programs, but participants can also expect to face any or all of the following:

  • Community service work
  • Classes to build skills
  • Counseling
  • Oversight from a court supervision officer or probation officer
  • Court fees

If the individual meets all of the requirements as directed throughout the program, the prosecutor’s office will dismiss the charges, dismiss some of the charges, or reduce the charges.

Diversion in the juvenile justice system

The juvenile justice system also allows for diversion. Through diversion, young people are able to avoid formal proceedings, the label of “delinquent” and the possibility of time spent in a juvenile correctional facility. They might gain mental health treatment, job training, educational help, counseling or other community-led support.   

What if an individual doesn’t qualify for a pretrial diversion program?

Because pre-trial diversion programs were created to help first-time offenders avoid a criminal record, most are fairly stringent in their requirements. Marietta’s program, for example, limits eligible offenses to misdemeanor possession of marijuana, minor in possession of alcohol or theft by shoplifting.  

However, just because someone doesn’t appear to qualify for a program at first glance doesn’t mean that a criminal defense attorney can’t reach a deal with a prosecutor. A law firm can help a person enter a program, help make sure the terms are good and help ensure that the individual is set up to succeed in the program. After all, if the individual is unable to complete the program, perhaps because it requires an overwhelming number of community service hours or cost-prohibitive fees, the case will return to the court system and could put someone in a worse position than not having done the program. 

It’s also critical to discuss plea arrangements with an attorney before entering a pre-trial diversion program. In some scenarios, defendants will be able to avoid entering a guilty plea.

Learn more about pre-trial diversion programs from criminal defense attorney Paul Ghanouni in this video

Call an attorney today for a consultation  

It’s important to work with a criminal defense lawyer to determine whether a pre-trial diversion program is a good fit. When a defendant doesn’t appear to qualify for any available programs, a knowledgeable misdemeanor lawyer can still negotiate with a prosecutor to determine a solution. If you’ve been charged with a minor crime and need help entering a pre-trial diversion program, call 770-720-6336 for a complimentary Defense Strategy Meeting.