A criminal record is life-changing, and can compromise housing applications, gainful employment prospects, college admissions, and student loans, among other things. These difficulties impair convicted offenders’ abilities to become productive members of society, which often leads to more criminal behavior.
So how can law enforcement officials prevent repeat offenses while still allowing people to contribute to society?
Enter criminal diversion programs. These valuable programs, usually geared towards first-time offenders, rehabilitate defendants, allowing them avoid a conviction upon successful completion of the program.
Studies have shown that diversion programs are highly effective in preventing repeat offenses. If you are facing criminal charges in North Carolina, it is important to know what your options are and discuss the possibility of diversion with your criminal defense attorney.
Adult Diversion Programs
There are a number of adult diversion programs available in North Carolina for minor or first-time offenses. Most programs are geared towards drug and alcohol offenses, but informal programs are available for other types of minor offenses as well.
Conditional Discharge 90/96 Program
North Carolina G.S. 90-96 allows for a dismissal of drug cases for defendants charged of certain first-time drug offenses, including possession of controlled substances or paraphernalia. To quality for this program, defendants must not have any prior drug convictions or other felony convictions.
Under this program, defendants are required to perform community service, pay court costs and fines, and complete a drug abuse assessment program. If defendants complete these requirements within the approved time period, the case will be dismissed.
Felony Drug Diversion Program
Defendants facing first-time felony drug charges may be eligible to participate in the felony drug diversion program. This program is much more extensive, and lasts a full year.
Defendants are required to sign an admission of guilt, submit to random drug tests, complete 225 hours of community service, meet monthly with a case manager, remain in school or employed, and avoid criminal convictions of any kind. Upon successful completion, the case will be dismissed.
Drug Education Program
The drug education program provides first-time misdemeanor drug offenders with education and life skills that enable them to avoid drug use. This program is intended for defendants facing first-time misdemeanor drug charges with no evidence of intent to distribute, no previous criminal record, and no prior participation in a deferral program.
To complete the program, defendants must sign an admission of guilt, complete 15 hours of classes, pay program and court fees, avoid other felony or misdemeanor convictions for one year, remain in school or employed, and submit to drug test requests or any other reasonable request made by a Judicial Specialist. Upon successful completion, charges will be dismissed in Open court.
Alcohol Education Program
The alcohol education program is intended for defendants accused of misdemeanor alcohol offenses including possession of alcohol under the age of 21, possession of a fake ID, aiding underage possession of alcohol, or selling alcohol or tobacco to minors.
The terms of the alcohol education program are the same as that of the drug education program, although the class curriculum focuses on alcohol education.
Informal First Offender Programs
An informal first-time offender program may be an option for other first-time low-level offenses such as shoplifting. In this case, your defense attorney would make a deal with the Assistant District Attorney managing your case. These programs vary on a case-by-case basis, but often include restitution, community service, court fees, and potentially counseling.
Youth Diversion Programs
North Carolina offers several youth diversion programs geared towards rehabilitating juvenile offenders and preventing repeat offenses and entrance into the adult criminal justice system.
Misdemeanor Diversion Programs
The Misdemeanor Diversion Programs are for 16- and 17-year-old youths, and operate pre-arrest and pre-charge. This is because 16- and 17-year-olds are currently automatically tried as adults in North Carolina, regardless of the level of the offense.
These programs are customized to meet the needs of individual participants, and usually help defendants access resources to develop healthy life skills. Defendants are also required to exhibit good behavior throughout the program, and progress is carefully monitored.
Juvenile Diversion Team
The Juvenile Diversion Team is a short-term, voluntary program that works with youths and families not currently involved in the justice system. This program is intended to address issues such as truancy, classroom disruption, and running away.
This program develops an individualized plan for each participant, evaluating the needs of the youth and his or her family. The goal is to encourage youth to engage in responsible and positive behavior, and to avoid future involvement with the courts system.
Alternative to Commitment Projects
The Alternative to Commitment Projects were created after a ruling by the General Assembly in 2004. This allowed the Juvenile Crime Prevention Councils to establish community programs for youths who would otherwise be placed in a youth development center.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett?is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of?Schlosser & Pritchett?and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense.? He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.