A lot of people think that there are only two options when faced with a misdemeanor charge - plead guilty or go to trial and hope for a not-guilty verdict. Going to court can be a big interruption in someone's life and many people are tempted to accept the first deal the prosecutor offers them so they can get on with their lives. However, pleading guilty or being found guilty at trial means a defendant will have a criminal record that can impact the defendant for the rest of his or her life.
Before you make a choice about what to do in your case, consider talking to a criminal defense attorney in Hall County. An experienced attorney will know that the Hall County criminal justice system has alternatives to simply pleading guilty or not-guilty that might be a better option. One of those possible alternatives is the Hall County Pretrial Intervention & Diversion Program. Diversion offers people who made a mistake a chance to start fresh.
What is the Hall County Pretrial Intervention & Diversion Program?
The Diversion Program is a win-win for the Hall County District Attorney and defendants. Using available resources, Hall County wouldn't have the money, time, or space to prosecute every minor offense to the fullest extent possible and also pursue serious crimes. Because of this, the District Attorney's Office created a program, run through the Solicitor's Office, to move low-level offenders out of the pipeline quickly and hopefully give them an opportunity to never come back.
What does the program have to offer?
The program gives defendants an alternative to pleading guilty or bringing their case to trial. If the program is successfully completed, the charges are dropped by the prosecutor. Defendants who are accepted into the Diversion Program and able to successfully complete the program will have no criminal conviction.
This allows a person to honestly say that they have never been convicted of a crime. In addition to a criminal record, a guilty plea or verdict can have consequences that include jail time, fines, probation, and requirements to complete counseling and community service. Traffic-related misdemeanors can have additional consequences such as driver's license suspension and higher insurance premiums.
Who is eligible?
The program is for first-time offenders charged with misdemeanor crimes (such as driving under the influence, battery, and criminal trespass).
A defendant is not eligible if the charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence that can't be deferred, suspended, or probated. However, a defendant in this situation should still consider speaking to a Hall County attorney because an attorney familiar with the local courts will know what other options are available.
The Hall County Pretrial Diversion Program takes 3-12 months to complete. The exact program a defendant is required to complete will vary based on the offense. The program could include:
- A requirement to complete a certain number of hours of community service;
- Payment to the court for certain costs;
- Fees to enroll in the program;
- Regular reporting to a program supervisor; and
- Participation in a counseling or treatment program (such as alcohol or drug treatment for a DUI charge).
If the offense in question involves victims (such as shoplifting or a hit-and-run), the alleged victim(s) will be informed that the defendant is applying to the Diversion Program. The victim(s) must consent before the defendant is allowed to participate in Diversion.
It may seem that the first reaction of many victims would be to say no out of a feeling that it isn't fair that the alleged perpetrator wouldn't be convicted of a crime. However, the prosecutor who is contacting the victim might be able to explain that the Diversion Program requires classes, community services, and treatment that can be helpful to the healing process, are just as demanding or more as the terms of a conviction, will help the offender get back on track. The prosecutor might also explain that there is no guarantee of a conviction if the case went to trial.
What happens if someone is disqualified or cannot complete Diversion?
While a defendant is in Diversion, the case has not been dismissed, it has only been postponed. If the defendant cannot complete Diversion successfully, the prosecutor will take steps to get the case back on the court's calendar. The case will resume as if the case had not been on pause.
Unable to Complete Diversion
Diversion is not the right option for everyone. Even though the benefits of avoiding a criminal conviction are worth it to many people, some people simply don't have the money or time to commit to participating in the program's requirements.
Since the Diversion Program is only open to first-time offenders, a background check will be run to make sure the defendant is a candidate for the program. If a prior offense is found, the defendant will be disqualified.
Other Open Cases
Since the program takes multiple months to complete, its possible for a defendant to be arrested for a second charge while in the Diversion Program. Even though it is not a conviction, having a second open court case will disqualify a person from the program.
Hall County Attorneys
Don't walk into the courtroom without understanding your options. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Richard S. Lawson help their clients weigh all the possible paths available. If the Diversion Program is not an option, we understand how to negotiate with the Hall County District Attorney's office and how to aggressively defend our clients. Contact Hall County DUI Attorney Rochard Lawson if you have been charged with a crime in Hall County and you want to keep a criminal conviction off your record.