What is Pretrial Diversion in Georgia?
Facing serious criminal charges can cause anxiety, frustration, embarrassment, and harsh consequences in your personal and professional life. Any arrest will be entered on your criminal history record. Having a criminal record no matter your age can impact your ability to get into college, remain in good standing at school, qualify for financial aid and student loans, auto insurance, government assistance, and home loans, as well as affect your future employment opportunities or ability to gain certain government security clearances. The charges may also have certain mandatory penalties such as jail time, a driver's license suspension, and steep fines.
A Georgia Attorney Can Help You Get Into A Pretrial Diversion Program:
A Georgia DUI Lawyer may be able to negotiate a resolution to your case that will avoid many of these severe consequences and may even be able to have the charge dismissed and removed from your criminal record. A Pretrial Diversion Program is an alternative to adjudication and may be available in certain cases if you are a first time offender. Typically only non-violent and non-aggressive offenses are eligible for the program. Charges such as minor in possession of alcohol, possession of marijuana, certain traffic offenses, and shoplifting are commonly referred to a Pretrial Diversion Program in many courts.
Not all courts have established Pretrial Diversion Programs. If your case is initiated in a municipal court that does not currently have a Pretrial Diversion Program or an alternative, you may still be able to transfer your case to the State Court within that jurisdiction if the program is offered there.
How Does Pretrial Diversion Work In Georgia?
If available, a Pretrial Diversion Program allows you to complete certain requirements in a specified time period and once completed, the charges will be dismissed and potentially eligible for expungement from your criminal record. If your case is resolved by participation in the Pretrial Diversion Program, because the charges are dismissed upon completion no conviction will be entered in the case and you can honestly state that you have never been convicted of that offense. Furthermore, because convictions for some offenses may initiate additional consequences outside of the jurisdiction of the court – such as the suspension of your driver's license by the Georgia Department of Driver Services – those additional penalties may be prevented if the case is dismissed upon completion of the program.
Common requirements of the program are the payment of a fine or program fee, probation, community service, attendance at a personal development seminar, alcohol awareness course, or an Alcohol or Drug Use Risk Reduction course. Some courses can be completed online while others are developed and run through the court or a private organization. If the offender is a juvenile, they may also be asked to write an essay that details what they have learned from the experience. The requirements in each case are typically tailored to the original offense and are designed to both punish and educate the offender to prevent the person from committing the same or other offenses in the future.
The Types of Case That May Qualify For Pretrial Diversion in Georgia:
A shoplifting charge may require attendance at a personal development seminar or a theft and shoplifting offenders program. The program may also require the offender to stay away from the premises of the store where the theft occurred.
If the charge was a traffic violation, the program may require attendance at a defensive driving course, driver improvement class, or a Risk Reduction course if the offense was drug or alcohol related.
A minor in possession of alcohol offense may require the offender to admit in writing who provided the alcohol he or she possessed or consumed or where the alcohol was purchased if it was obtained by the offender personally. You may also be required to submit to and pass a number of random drug and alcohol screens within a certain time frame. A drug and alcohol substance abuse evaluation is also commonly required in these cases as well as completion of any treatment, if recommended by the evaluator. A Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) victim impact panel is a popular requirement as well due to its focus on consequences to others and how the victims of these crimes and their families are affected.
If the case originated in a Georgia Juvenile Court, the intake division of the court may refer the offender to a Youth Diversion Panel. Of the almost 48,000 cases referred to Juvenile Court in 2011, approximately half were diverted. Juvenile Justice Decision Points for All Counties in Georgia for 2011. For more information, see here.
The Youth Diversion Panel is typically overseen by court officials or community volunteers. The panel will then decide whether the child will benefit from the program and what requirements would best help the child understand the consequences of his or her actions and prevent the child from re-offending in the future.
Examples of Pretrial Diversion in Georgia:
In Newton County, Georgia, Juvenile Court Judge Sherri Roberts has developed several programs that focus on community involvement to provide an effective intervention as an alternative to the detention of youthful offenders. One program is for girls and their parents and follows the “Girls Moving On” curriculum to educate girls on life skills and lessons. The judge has also established a mentoring program for at-risk youth.
Judge Steven Teske of the Clayton County Juvenile Court has implemented new procedures for case management through a school conflict diversion program along with community members, service workers, police officers, and school officials that has led to an increased graduation rate in the county and there was an 87% decrease in fighting offenses and a 36% decrease among other “focus acts” which include disorderly conduct, obstruction of an officer, and disrupting a public school.
What happens in the event Pretrial Diversion is not completed?
There are consequences if the requirements of the program are not completed on time or at all. If you fail to complete the requirements or are charged with committing a new offense while in the program, you may become ineligible and you will face prosecution of the original charges along with any potential consequences. A failed drug or alcohol test will also cause the offender to be removed from the program.
If you are dishonest about your criminal history and it is discovered, even after completion of the program and a dismissal entered in the case, that you were not eligible for the Pretrial Diversion Program, the case will be re-accused by the State and you will be prosecuted as in any other case and if convicted, sentenced by the court. If removed from the program and convicted, the charge may not still be eligible for expungement from your criminal history record.
Many offenses have collateral consequences outside of the court's sentencing conditions. If you are removed from the program and convicted of the original offense, you may face any or all of those associated penalties. For instance, if a person under the age of 21 is convicted of a minor in possession charge, they may have their driver's license suspended for a six month period. More Information on Georgia DUI laws can be found throughout this website.
If you failed to complete requirements and were removed from a Juvenile Court Youth Diversion Program, your case would prosecuted and if the case remained in the Juvenile Court, your records may still be sealed. If the original offense was a traffic violation or a DUI charge, though, the conviction would still be reported to the Georgia Department of Driver Services and recorded on your driving history. Your driving history cannot be sealed and will forever be accessible by government agencies. Sometimes it's difficult to example the concept of "forever" to young people.
What Are the Benefits of Completing Pretrial Diversion?
However, as stated previously, if the requirements of the Pretrial Diversion Program are completed successfully, the original charges are dismissed and no conviction will be entered in the case. If the prosecutor agrees, the charges may also be eligible for expungement. An expungement does not happen as a matter of course and the offender must complete an application to initiate the expungement process.
The Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC), an operating division within the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, maintains the state's computerized criminal history database that includes the fingerprint and criminal history records of more than 2,600,000 persons. Any time a person is arrested for any offense, that information is reported to GCIC and becomes a part of that person's criminal history record. The criminal history record includes the person's identification data (name, date of birth, social security number, sex, race, height, weight, etc.), arrest data (including arresting agency, date of arrest, and charges), final judicial disposition data submitted by a court, prosecutor or other criminal justice agency and custodial information if the offender was incarcerated in a Georgia correctional facility.
An expungement removes any information related to that offense from your criminal history record. Access to that arrest information is then restricted to criminal justice agencies only. Section one of the expungement application must be completed by the applicant. The application must then be sent to the arresting agency. The arresting agency will then complete their section of the application and forward the form to the appropriate prosecuting official. Once the prosecutor completes their section of the form and approves the request, the completed application is forwarded to GCIC along with the required processing fee so that the record can be formally expunged.
If a Youth Diversion Program was completed in Georgia Juvenile Court, the juvenile's record may be sealed upon completion of the program. If the case is to be sealed, no action needs be taken by the offender for this to happen. Once sealed, the file cannot be accessed and there will be no record of the charges.
There Is Help Available If Arrested in Georgia:
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Pretrial Diversion in Georgia
Georgia Pretrial Diversion
Pretrial Diversion in Georgia Juvenile Cases