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What Is a Diversion?
Types, Differences and Forms

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C.L. Mike Schmidt Published by C.L. Mike Schmidt

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Most states have acknowledged that minimal criminal offenses, especially those committed by first-time offenders, don't always necessitate the standard criminal process.

As an attorney, I have noticed that diversion programs can be a more cost-effective solution than the conventional court system. But what exactly is a diversion program?

Quick Summary

  • For first-time offenders with minor offenses, the traditional court process of plea and sentence or a not-guilty plea might be inadequate for delivering the best outcome.
  • A diversion is an alternative path to take in a criminal case.
  • This strategy is used to remove minimal-risk cases from the crowded court dockets.

What Is Diversion?

A lawyer researching what a diversion is

"Diversion" is several programs designed to divert criminal cases from the justice system [1]. For example, each state has a drug diversion program, allowing defendants to attend substance abuse classes to avoid being charged with a crime.

Generally, diversion may be offered as an option in the following instances:

  • If this is your first criminal offense, or there are extraordinary circumstances such as committing a first offense in five years or previous offenses being of a different nature, you've admitted to committing the offense and accept responsibility for it.
  • By accepting the police-provided alternative to prosecution, you consent to its conditions.
  • The offense is a minor infraction.

Diverting to a program is feasible in most states and even at the federal level. Upon completion, many places will drop your criminal charge, so you never have to face the following:

  • a criminal conviction
  • possible jail time
  • a criminal record

Forms of Diversion Programs

A lawyer explaining a diversion a program

Diversion programs provide an alternative to the typical criminal court process and system by allowing those eligible defendants to complete a program intended to address any problems that lead up to or cause their initial arrests, such as substance abuse issues, alcohol addiction, or anger management.

Diversions are also called:

  • pretrial diversion programs 
  • pretrial intervention programs

Daily, officials in the criminal justice system often use their discretion to divert cases out of the criminal process. This is called informal diversion.

For instance, in minor offenses such as traffic violations where suspects appear docile and submissive, the police officer may opt for an alternative resolution outside court.

On the other hand, formal diversion programs involve judicial hearings or programs issued by prosecutors that allow entities under investigation to avoid conviction if they agree to abide by certain conditions set forth by law enforcement agencies.

In more-formal circumstances, an individual charged with a crime is typically offered a program as part of the diversion process. This form of treatment or voluntary sanction allows for their case to be closed if they successfully complete it.

What Types of Criminal Acts Are Eligible for Consideration in a Diversion Program?

The types of criminal acts eligible for consideration in a diversion program are offenses classified as Category 1, 2, and 3 and are usually viewed as "less serious," thus permitting them to be considered for diversion.

"Jail-diversion programs typically have a straightforward aim: to allow the offender to avoid confinement while awaiting trial."
- Harry R. Dammer, Ph.D. Professor, Sociology/Criminal Justice/Criminology

What Is the Reason Behind Diversion Programs?

A lawyer looking at diversion programs

The reason behind diversion programs is to give people caught up in the criminal justice system a second chance and to provide them with an opportunity to address any underlying issues that may have contributed to their crime. 

To reduce incarceration, many states provide diversion programs as a viable alternative, and they can also:

  • lighten the burden on overloaded court dockets
  • help alleviate the problem of prison overcrowding 
  • enable you to evade the severe repercussions associated with a criminal conviction.

Related Article: How to Convince a Prosecutor to Drop Charges?

How Does a Diversion Program Work?

If you complete your diversion program, the prosecutor or court will usually drop the criminal charges against you. As a result, you will not have any criminal convictions in your criminal history. 

What's more, this process takes place before prosecution—which means that you can take advantage of diversion without having to enter a plea, whether it is:

  1. a guilty plea
  2. no-contest plea
  3. a plea of not guilty.

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If I’ve Already Pleaded Not Guilty, Can Diversion Still Be an Option if I Change My Plea to Guilty?

If you have already pleaded not guilty, diversion is still possible if you change your plea to guilty. The prosecutor will then decide whether to proceed with the case or offer diversion as an alternative.

What Will I Have to Do to Complete the Diversion?

To complete the diversion, you must do the activities and fulfill the program's requirements specified by your diversion plan.

This might involve completing prescribed classes, participating in counseling or mental illness therapy, performing community service, paying restitution payments, following a set curfew, and other specific tasks related to your case.

Get a Free Lawsuit Evaluation With Our Attorneys

Diversion can be an invaluable option for individuals accused of a crime and willing to take responsibility for their actions. Schmidt & Clark, LLP offers free consultations, so do not hesitate to contact us if you need assistance with your legal matter.

Our criminal defense lawyers will review the facts of your case, discuss all legal possibilities available and guide you through the criminal justice system.