Everybody makes mistakes.
For some people, those mistakes bring them into conflict with the law. Thankfully, Florida law recognizes that, in some cases, offenders deserve a second chance.
In Pensacola, Milton, Fort Walton, Destin, and all over Northwest Florida, our State courts offer two programs that defer some offenders away from the criminal justice system who have never been in trouble with the law, generally for certain types of first offenders.
“Pre-trial diversion” is for those accused of misdemeanor offenses, and “pre-trial intervention” is for those accused of most third degree, non-violent felonies. Most charged with more serious offenses are not eligible for these programs.
All parties involved must agree to allow the offender into a deferral program – this includes the state prosecutor, who in most cases “refers” the case to the diversion program after running a background check on the accused, the judge, and, if there is a victim, the victim as well, and, in many cases, even the law enforcement officer involved in the arrest. This is why, with most pretrial diversion programs, it’s generally best for a client to hire an attorney to negotiate with the Office of the State Attorney to affect this result, if possible.
Occasionally there are a few cases in misdemeanor court where the facts and the background of the offender makes it evident that the person is clearly eligible for the pretrial diversion program. In these situations, I have advised folks who call that they may not need to hire an attorney to be referred to the pretrial diversion program. However, most people elect to hire a lawyer if only to lessen the fear and anxiety of going to Court alone not knowing what is going to happen or who they need to talk with. (Pretrial Intervention in felony court is a different matter).
Entering one of these programs usually occurs at a defendant’s arraignment. Normally, the defense and the prosecutor have already discussed the possibility of deferment by that time. When the person arrives at misdemeanor arraignment, or felony docket day in the case pretrial intervention, their case is referred to the respective diversionary office.
Misdemeanor diversion typically last three to six months depending on the offense while felony pretrial intervention is most often one year. Once enrolled in one of these program, the offender is assigned an officer to report to, sometimes on a monthly basis. They will have certain conditions to meet and certain fees to pay.
For instance, someone charged with shoplifting typically must complete 20 hours of community service, an online shoplifting anonymous course and refrain from visiting the business they are accused of stealing from.
Usually, those in a deferral must refrain from drinking and are subject to random drug testing at their expense.
In some more serious cases, however, the state will require the defendant to plead “no contest” to the charge at the outset. In that case, if they don’t complete the program successfully, there will be no issue as to the guilt or innocence of whether they committed the offense. The issue will be what type of sentence they receive. The prosecutor’s office policy requires some folks to enter pleas because if the defendant fails the program they may have a difficult time locating witnesses and cannot then prove their case.
If the person, as in many cases, does not enter a plea, their case begins anew if they fail to complete the deferral program.
Some crimes are not eligible for deferral, including most felony violent offenses. In Pensacola and throughout Northwest Florida, DUIs are not allowed to be deferred. (Some southern Florida counties do allow first time DUI offenders into pretrial DUI diversion). Some drug crimes, like those involving marijuana, are often admitted to these programs. Methamphetamine and cocaine offenders, however, are less frequently allowed into felony intervention programs.
There is a separate pre-trial diversion program called the Domestic Violence Pretrial Diversion Program with more conditions to complete, such as 26 weeks of domestic violence counseling, in some cases, for those who have alleged to have committed domestic violence offenses. Please keep in mind that almost all diversion programs, as mentioned below, are subject to negotiation between your attorney and the prosecutor.
If the subject completes the diversion or intervention program, the state will dismiss the charges, and the subject has avoided getting a criminal conviction on his record. Many times, they may also be eligible for a sealing or expunction of the original arrest if they have no criminal convictions in their past. See my blog on sealing or expunction here.
Every case is different, and the details are often negotiable. That’s where a good attorney educating the prosecutor as to the unique facts of a particular case can be extremely helpful.
If you are facing charges in Pensacola, Milton, Gulf Breeze, Destin or Navarre that you think might qualify for diversion or intervention please give The Jenkins Law Offices a call. In almost all cases we can help you. If we can’t we’ll find you someone who can or get you pointed in the right direction.