Most judges and most lawmakers now understand that petty crimes committed by first-time offenders shouldn’t always be penalized with prosecutions and jail terms. First-time offenders – and our society – are better served by counseling aimed at deterring crime in the future. Diversion programs cost far less than trials and jail, and diversion gives first-time offenders the opportunity to compensate victims through restitution and the opportunity to perform community service. A diversion program also allows a first-time offender to avoid a permanent criminal conviction and the many problems associated with having a criminal record.
Florida lawmakers have created a number of diversion programs that are now available to first-time offenders in Palm Beach County. These programs include juvenile diversion, DUI diversion, mental health diversion, veterans diversion, and a pre-trial diversion program for first offenders ineligible for the other programs. If you or someone you love has been charged with a first offense or a minor crime in Palm Beach County, an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer can explain diversion programs and provide the legal advice and defense representation that you will need.
PALM BEACH COUNTY PRE-TRIAL DIVERSION PROGRAMS
For many first-time offenders, the successful completion of a pre-trial diversion program can mean the charge will be dismissed. Palm Beach County’s pre-trial diversion programs usually include drug testing, drug or alcohol counseling, and community service, although each person’s particular requirements will to a great extent hinge on the charge itself. A person who is charged with simple assault, for example, may be ordered into anger management counseling rather than a drug program.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach County, an experienced West Palm Beach criminal defense lawyer can examine the charge and the evidence against you and tell you if you qualify for diversion – and if so, what you can expect in a pre-trial diversion program. Pre-trial diversion focuses on counseling, treatment, and the modification of behavior. Most participants must agree to attend classes or vocational training, to participate in individual or group counseling, to perform community service, to make restitution, and to pay fees and fines.
PALM BEACH COUNTY FIRST TIME DUI OFFENDER PROGRAM
In Palm Beach County, if you have been charged with driving under the influence for the first time, you may qualify for the Palm Beach County First Time DUI Offender Program. Upon entering the program, the DUI charge will be dropped, and you must plead guilty to reckless driving, which is a second-degree misdemeanor. Adjudication will be withheld, and you will be placed on probation for twelve months.
If you complete the First Time DUI Offender Program successfully, no points will be added against your driver’s license. If you do not finish the program, you will be found guilty of driving under the influence and sentenced to serve ninety days in the Palm Beach County Jail. Not every first time DUI offender in Palm Beach County will qualify for first time DUI diversion. You cannot be a participant in the program if:
• Your DUI charge involved a traffic accident.
• Minors or animals were in the vehicle when you were stopped.
• You have committed a similar offense in the past.
• You have previously been in a diversion program, excluding juvenile diversion.
• You did not have a valid driver’s license when you were arrested.
• You have served time in prison for any criminal conviction.
• You face any felony, drug, or paraphernalia charge along with the DUI charge.
PALM BEACH COUNTY JUVENILE DIVERSION PROGRAMS
When anyone who is under 18 years of age is charged with a crime in the state of Florida, the Department of Juvenile Justice offers a recommendation to the State Attorney and to the court for appropriate disciplinary measures. In many cases, a juvenile diversion program can resolve the criminal charge against a minor and provide the professional intervention that helps deter juveniles from committing crimes in the future.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office conducts a voluntary Juvenile First Offender Program for juveniles who are facing a first criminal charge for crimes that include possession of alcohol, possession of marijuana under twenty grams, possession of marijuana paraphernalia, shoplifting, or trespassing. If a juvenile is recommended for the program, the juvenile will have to admit his or her guilt, sign a waiver of his or her due process rights, and take an active part in the program.
MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PROGRAMS IN PALM BEACH COUNTY
If a defendant who is charged with a crime in Palm Beach County has a demonstrable mental health issue, a diversion program can sometimes be offered. Mental health diversion programs allow defendants to obtain the professional help that they genuinely require and avoid incarceration. However, demonstrating the existence of a mental health issue can often be difficult, so the courts may require documentary evidence that may include medical records, proof of prior institutionalization or treatment, and letters or testimony from medical and mental health professionals.
VETERANS DIVERSION PROGRAMS IN PALM BEACH COUNTY
You may have read about the rising rate of suicide among our nation’s military veterans. During their service and especially after being discharged, many veterans struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional and mental health issues that sometimes lead to suicide and sometimes lead to criminal behavior. By successfully completing a veterans diversion program, a veteran can obtain the help he or she needs and usually have a criminal record expunged or a charge dismissed.
To qualify for a veterans diversion program, a defendant must be a U.S. military veteran with an honorable discharge who also struggles with a service-linked mental illness or issue that can include alcoholism, substance abuse, the effects of a traumatic brain injury, and other medical, mental, and/or psychological issues. Those charged with violent felonies are ineligible for a veterans diversion program. Completion of the program may require community service, restitution to victims, and group or individual drug or mental health counseling.
A conviction for any criminal offense will frequently have lifelong ramifications. Those who have a criminal record routinely have trouble finding employment, housing, and even some educational opportunities. However, if you have been arrested in Palm Beach County, and if it’s the first time that you’ve been charged with a crime, there is a very good chance that you may be eligible for a Palm Beach County diversion program.