Getting stopped by police, arrested and handcuffed, taken to the police station, booked, and thrown in a cell can be a terrible and frightening experience. When the individual is a young person, the experience can be even more shocking. With the possibility that one simple mistake can leave a teenager marked for life with a criminal record, it may seem like many of life's opportunities may be foreclosed for good. However, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts offers the possibility of a juvenile or pretrial diversion program, to reduce the impact of a minor criminal offense on a young person.
Massachusetts Diversion Programs
Massachusetts has a couple of ways a defendant could get into a diversion program instead of being charged with a criminal offense. This includes:
Juvenile Diversion (for ages 7 to 17)
Pretrial Diversion (for ages 17 to 21)
The District Attorney's Juvenile Diversion Program is intended to offer an alternative to prosecution for certain juvenile offenders. The program is intended allow young people to have an opportunity to participate in counseling and educational programs, and perform community service rather than be prosecuted for their criminal violations. Some goals of juvenile diversion include reducing the likelihood of re-offending, address the causes of juvenile delinquency, and help the young offenders to make better life choices. It seeks to treat juveniles as children in need of help and guidance instead of as criminals. To be eligible for a juvenile diversion program, the juvenile must have no prior record; the criminal violation must be a non-violent offence; and the individual must demonstrate a willingness to make a positive change. The district attorney will usually determine eligibility on a case-by-case basis. If the juvenile and their parents agree to participate, the youth will usually sign an agreement of their obligations under the program. Juvenile diversion programs involves payment of diversion fees, and attendance at a hearing before a diversion board where the juvenile will explain their behavior. The diversion contract or agreement will usually consist of some number of community service hours, and may include holding the juvenile accountable for their crime, including paying restitution or writing a letter of apology to the victim, drug or alcohol assessment, and education and counseling. If the juvenile gets into trouble while participating in the diversion program, it will be terminated, and the original violation may go forward with a criminal proceeding, with no offer for a juvenile diversion program.
With the success of the juvenile diversion program, the state expanded diversion eligibility to youth aged 17 to 21 who would be eligible under the juvenile system. It may be available to individuals who have not been convicted of any violation after age 17, except for minor traffic violations, and has received a recommendation that they would benefit from a diversion program. This could include minor misdemeanor charges including drug possession, underage possession of alcohol, or petty shoplifting. The pretrial diversion program may consist of community supervision and services, which may include medical, educational, vocational, social and psychological services, guidance, training, community service work, counseling, and other rehabilitative services. If a pretrial diversion program participant violates a condition of the program, they will be brought before the judge to determine if the program should be terminated, and proceed with the original charges.
A criminal defense attorney can request a pretrial diversion for the youthful offender, and advocate on behalf of their young client and their family, to show that the individual would benefit from a diversion program.
Successful Completion of Diversion Program
Upon successful completion of a juvenile diversion program, the case against the juvenile will be dismissed without any court arraignment. With no arraignment, there is no entry on the juvenile's Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI). If the juvenile continues to stay out of trouble, they will keep a clean criminal record, and background checks by employers or landlords will not show any criminal offense or that the individual sought an alternative diversion program. The same applies to the pretrial diversion program.
Use of Criminal Defense Lawyer to Obtain Diversion Program
A criminal defense attorney, experienced with representing juvenile clients and their families can be helpful in negotiating alternatives to criminal prosecution. A knowledgeable Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer understands what a criminal record can mean for the rest of a young person's life. It is important to have an advocate on the side of the child and their family to argue for diverting the offense to a diversion program.
At Dhar Law, LLP, we have represented many young clients and their families charged with criminal offenses. For young offenders, our committed team of lawyers have successfully sought alternative diversion programs, to save our clients from the stigma and permanence of a criminal record. If you or your loved one is facing first-time non-violent criminal charges, or have any questions about the eligibility or consequences for a diversion program, please contact our offices today.