A criminal record lingers long after any sentence is completed. Even a minor conviction can impact things like employment, housing and benefits opportunities. Certain individuals charged with a crime may have an option to avoid this through a pretrial diversion program.

Here is a brief overview of what you should know about these programs.

Pretrial diversion programs are widespread

A pretrial diversion program is an alternative to traditional prosecution. The goal is to offer certain accused individuals the opportunity to avoid the standard criminal case process, in turn helping to prevent further crime while saving the criminal justice system some money.

Pretrial diversion programs are now widespread, having been established in 48 states and Washington D.C. They can be aimed at certain populations. For example, Georgia is one of 39 states with a diversion program that addresses substance abuse.

Georgia counties can tailor their programs

In Georgia, county attorneys have a little flexibility when writing, implementing and administering a pretrial diversion program. That means the rules in one county may be different from the rules in the jurisdiction next door.

In general, however, program eligibility is supposed to account for the nature of the alleged crime as well as the accused individual’s prior arrest record. Pretrial diversion programs often end up being an option mainly for first-time offenders charged with a non-violent crime, such as a drug offense.

Potential benefits

These programs offer a few clear benefits. Someone taking part may be able to avoid the lengthy criminal court procedure, as well as the standard fines or prison time that may come as a result.

In addition, if you get through the program successfully, it usually means there is no mark on your criminal record. This can be a significant benefit, reducing the incident’s impact on your life.

A few things to consider

Pretrial diversion programs are voluntary. Nobody can make you participate. However, that goes both ways. Local prosecutors could determine you are not eligible for such a program.

In addition, for those who do participate, strict compliance is a requirement. Slip up just once and you may find yourself back where you started. This means:

  • Paying all required fees
  • Attending all mandatory counseling or support sessions
  • Passing any ordered drug tests
  • Taking part in community service
  • Adhering to any other stipulations

Nobody should jump into a pretrial diversion program on a whim. It’s important to know exactly what you are getting into, including the benefits and risks, before agreeing to anything.