This week’s subject involves availability of a court alternative commonly referred to as a Los Angeles Diversion Program. This type of program is sometimes considered for 1st-time offenders, low-level crimes (i.e., shoplifting, trespass), municipal code cases, as well technical violations, to name a few. Those accepted into a Diversion Program can then avoid convictions on their records if they successfully complete all of the program requirements in a timely fashion. In fact, significant changes in this area of law are pending, as you can read at: Los Angeles Diversion.
Are You Eligible for a Diversion Program?
The starting point of whether your case is eligible and suitable for “Diversion,” will likely depend on the charges you are facing.
First-Time Misdemeanor Cases- Prior to Court
Misdemeanor offenses, on a case by case evaluation by the City Attorneys’ Office and District Attorney, will be considered for a Diversion Program. The District Attorney has one Pre-Court “Diversion” Program at its disposal: Office Hearings; the City Attorney has two: Office Hearings and APPS (Alternative Prosecution Programs).
The District Attorney Office Hearing Program, as well as the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office Hearing Program, is administered by non-lawyer Hearing Officers, who attempt to resolve community/local violations and problems in a less-formal setting than the courthouse. This has been a cost effective process for the government to solve otherwise difficult problems, retain the option of later prosecution if the problems continue, and is less-confrontational to those parties involved. Each case which is referred for hearing saves limited available resources to prosecute more serious cases.
APPS - Alternative Prosecution Programs – Pre-Court/Pre-Filing Diversion
APPS is a Los Angeles Diversion Program which is outsourced to a private company called American Justice Associates. The program was developed in conjunction with the City Attorney’s Office, which determines suitability of particular offenders, as well as additional requirements, such as community service, restitution, counseling, etc. The program costs are about $355 for the materials and monitoring. APPS is only available if requested by the City Attorney. The workbook component can be completed at home, in 4-5 hours. APPS prefers that attendees complete the material over time, and take at least a week to return the finished materials. APPS will monitor the requirements of each participant, and forward results to the City Attorney. APPS is considered prior to the first court date, and is called Pre-Court Diversion. Once a case is filed in Los Angeles Courts, APPS is no longer available.
A common APPS Diversion Program participant “example” is a person who has no prior record, is remorseful, is employed or in school, and has been arrested in Los Angeles for shoplifting (usually $50 or less). If the case is approved by the City Attorney for Diversion, the City Attorney will contact the prospective applicant and indicate the option of APPS instead of court. It is the responsibility of the applicant to make arrangements to complete all program requirements- extensions are not generally allowed. If the person accepts the APPS offer, he or she will need to process directly with the APPS Program. Once accepted in the program, future court dates will be suspended, pending successful completion.
Court Diversion – Pre-Plea or Post-Plea
A final option which is used sparingly in Los Angeles Courts allows for a defendant to earn a less-serious charge, or later withdraw his or her plea. This is not a frequent offer by the LA District Attorney’s Office, but may be considered for City Attorney misdemeanor cases. Court Diversion offers sometimes allow for a case to be continued without a plea, to allow an opportunity for requirements to be completed. Other cases involve a plea or a plea/probation/sentencing, which allows for a withdrawal of the plea upon successful completion of requirements. Any plea of no contest or guilty, even without probation and sentencing, may still have harmful effects to you, and should first be carefully evaluated by you and your attorney.
Drug Diversion (Penal Code 1000/Deferred Entry of Judgment/DEJ)
Finally, in Los Angeles County, first-time offenders facing drug possession and/or transportation (for personal use) may be eligible for Drug Diversion, subject to oversight by the Prosecuting Agency and Judge. While occasional exceptions occur, disqualifiers to Drug Diversion, typically include:
1. Previous drug-related conviction;
2. Present case involving violence, or threat of violence;
3. Previous participation in PC 1000 Program within 5 years of present case;
4. Prior felony conviction within 5 years of present case
Drug Diversion in Los Angeles requires participants to enter a guilty plea to an eligible offense prior to acceptance in the program. Diversion will then be monitored by either the Probation Department or the Court. The “enrollee” will be required to start and complete a Court-Approved Drug Counseling Program, known as Deferred Entry of Judgment. The period of court-monitoring will last from18 months to 3 years. Successful completion of Drug Diversion, pursuant to Penal Code section 1000.4, deems the arrest not to have happened, in most cases. (Prior to agreeing to any plea, you should speak to your attorney about the specific consequences of PC 1000, as well as future disclosure requirements of your case.)
Los Angeles Drug Diversion Programs generally consist of 65-70 hours, total, to be completed in a timely manner, about 5 months. Specifics of this program involve an intake assessment, education and counseling, self-help meetings, as well as an exit evaluation. Written evaluations, progress reports, and random drug-testing are also part of the system.