From time to time, we’re asked how pretrial diversion programs or “pretrial interventions” work in the criminal system. It is a mixed bag. The format used in Baton Rouge and around Louisiana creates a loophole that gives some people the chance to buy their way out.
Basically, diversion or PTI gives people charged with so-called minor victimless crimes, who have no criminal record, the option to pay money and go through program. Diversion costs a lot more than the court system, but it offers the possibility of avoiding conviction. The success rate going through diversion, however, is somewhere below 50%. That means you can go through the entire process, spend a lot of money, and still be thrown back in the regular criminal system.
It can get worse. In order to enroll, most district attorneys and court systems require a signed admission of guilt. This means if you do not successfully complete the program, the admission could be used against you, should your case go to court.
The results of going through diversion are often worse than going to court. That’s because participants pay a lot of money and are often admitting to guilt without getting any counseling first to charges that would likely be reduced or thrown out of the regular system.
The courts and prosecutors like diversion, because it creates a lot of money they would not otherwise receive. It also creates an additional level of bureaucracy and more employees associated with the District Attorney’s Office and courts. People who could have fought the charges pay instead, in the hope of avoiding court – usually without any legal representation.
Many states have rules and regulation on how these programs are run. Louisiana, for the most part, leaves it up to the local parish. That means many people who should not be allowed to participate slip through the cracks. Record keeping also tends to be spotty. Because of this, the federal system often views diversion the same way as a conviction. Truck drivers, for instance, usually have points assigned when they complete the PTI program for a traffic ticket. In other words, the regulating agencies treat successfully finishing diversion the same way as a conviction.
There may be a place for diversion. It exists in one form or another in the federal system, where there are clear rules in place with more oversight. Often times, however, it is not the best choice. Before you consider taking part in a diversion program for something more serious than a traffic ticket, please call our office or talk to a qualified attorney.