Criminal diversion programs are a way to keep one mistake off your record. Usually diversionary program require some educational component and a fee, but it is often worth it to have a ticket torn up or a criminal charge dismissed.
DuPage County recently started a "pretrial diversion" program. This would allow those accused of a felony offense the chance to keep the charge off their records. State's Attorney Bob Berlin said that it would allow his criminal prosecutors to spend more time fighting violent crime.
Similar initiatives in neighboring Cook, Kane and McHenry counties have been successful.
Who can participate?
First-time offenders charged with non-violent felonies will be eligible to participate in the diversion program. A criminal defense attorney or the state's attorney's office will make referrals to a program coordinator.
Theft and shoplifting charges may qualify for pretrial diversion. For retail theft charges, if the value of the property taken is over $300 one can be charged with a felony. As for theft, the line is drawn at $500. A felony theft conviction generally cannot be removed from your record, which means pretrial diversion could be the only way to keep the charge off your record.
How does diversion work?
Once referred into the program, participants go in front of a citizen panel where they explain what they did and take responsibility for their mistake. After the panel makes a recommendation, the state's attorney's office will then decide whether to accept the person into the program. Nothing disclosed in the application process can be used against the person if they are not accepted.
Successful completion requires pleading guilty and following conditions for a year. Possible conditions could include community service, random drug testing or counseling, but are tailored for each individual. Financial restitution could also be required in property crime cases.
The prosecutor's office dismisses the charges once all the conditions are satisfied. If the conditions are not satisfied, sentencing on the original charge occurs.
The program requires an initial application fee of $50 and then a nonrefundable fee of $750 if accepted. The idea being that the initial investment will ensure completion of the program.
The pretrial diversion program in DuPage County is different from other counties in that it requires participants to plead guilty right away rather than after completion. This pretrial diversion is not available for drug cases, DUIs, low-level marijuana offenses or felonies that carry mandatory prison.
A criminal felony charge just by itself can have long-lasting effects. Even without a conviction, it may be harder to find new employment and housing, because a charge may come up on a criminal background check.
This new option is not right in every case. In some cases, for example, there may be grounds to fight the charge if a law enforcement officer did not follow correct procedures. Seeking the counsel of an experienced criminal defense attorney is the first step toward finding out whether you might be able to take advantage of the new initiative.