Are Diversion Programs a Good Deal for Florida Domestic Violence Defendants?
Florida domestic violence intervention programs - which vary in availability and structure from one judicial circuit to the next - can be a good option for individuals facing first-time misdemeanor charges to avoid a criminal conviction. Prosecution is deferred and then ultimately dropped if the defendant successfully completes the program. That said, the requirements are strict, and it might not be smart for every defendant in every situation.
If you’re arrested for domestic violence in Broward, Miami-Dade, or Palm Beach Counties, our criminal defense lawyers can review the facts of your case and explain your legal options - and how hiring a private defense lawyer can work to your advantage.What Exactly Are Domestic Violence Pretrial Diversion Programs?
Sometimes referred to as “deferred prosecution” and “pretrial diversion,” these programs incentivize defendants to engage in state-approved interventions for anger management/conflict resolution, substance abuse, mental health, parenting skills, and more. The carrot dangled is the opportunity to avoid criminal conviction on a violent charge.
The programs are completely voluntary, but the defendant waives the right to a speedy trial and may be required to plead guilty at the outset (even though the charge is eventually dismissed upon successful completion). defendants are also responsible for all associated costs and fees.
Fail to meet the requirements, and the state at any moment can pick up the right case where they left off - with that guilty plea in hand. This is why our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers urge defendants to approach these programs with caution - and a full understanding of the consequences if they can’t or won’t comply with ALL the terms.
In most jurisdictions, pretrial diversion participants often complete the programs in anywhere from 6 to 12 months. After you complete the program, the criminal charges remain pending for 90 days while prosecutors confirm you’ve met all requirements before dropping the charges. If any issues arise, the prosecutor can recommend further supervision or requirements before the charges can be dropped.
Depending on the unique circumstances of the case, the state attorney’s office may require defendants successfully complete the following:
- A 7-month batterer’s intervention program.
- Other education programs relevant to the defendant’s situation. Subject areas include life skills, victim awareness, parenting, financial responsibility, adult education/GED, etc.
- Obeying no contact orders.
- Avoiding any further criminal activity.
- Attending individual and/or family counseling.
- Undergoing psychological evaluations and/or treatment, as recommended.
- Alcohol or substance abuse treatment, random drug testing, AA or NA meeting attendance.
- Meeting regularly with a probation officer.
- Completing community service.
Eligibility for pret-rial intervention programs are set forth in F.S. 948.08. Those facing violent felony charges or who have prior convictions for crimes of violence (misdemeanor or felony) are not eligible. Crimes of violence include domestic violence, carjacking, home invasion robbery, sexual battery, murder, etc. If one has prior felony convictions that were NOT violent *may* be allowed into a pretrial diversion program - at the prosecutor’s discretion.
Individual jurisdictions may have additional requirements for their pretrial diversion programs.Southeast Florida Domestic Violence Pretrial Diversion Programs
For defendants in Broward County, the Office of the 17th Judicial Circuit offers a Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Diversion Program, which is administered and supervised by the Broward Sheriff’s Office Probation Department. To be eligible, the defendant must be charged with one of the misdemeanors outlined in F.S. 741.28, have no prior domestic violence convictions or pending charges, have no prior adult felony convictions, no more than two prior convictions for non-violent misdemeanors, and no prior diversion program participation. Defendants under the age of 25 who have “significant” juvenile records will be disqualified. The victim must consent, and the defendant waives their rights to speedy trial, discovery, to withdraw a previous not guilty plea, and any standing to contest a prosecutor’s finding of non-compliance and/or termination from the program.
For defendants in Miami-Dade County, the Office of the State Attorney offers a misdemeanor and felony pre-trial diversion program. Program compliance is monitored by Court Options or The Advocate Program. Further, the 11th Judicial Circuit, which operates in Miami, has a Domestic Violence Criminal Court that handles some 5,100 domestic violence and domestic violence injunctions each year. Pretrial diversion may be offered by the state attorney with referral to a batterer’s intervention program, substance abuse treatment, parenting classes, mental health counseling, etc.
Palm Beach County does offer pretrial diversions for first-time offenders in low-level, non-violent misdemeanor cases, but there isn’t a program specifically dedicated to those specifically accused of domestic violence. For youthful offenders, there is the Family Violence Intervention Program, a 6-month pretrial diversion program that involves state attorney’s office referrals of first-time juvenile domestic violence offenders. The goal is to help them mediate conflicts and seek alternative resources, as opposed to going straight to court (which sometimes means facing adult charges). There’s no cost for this program, but if the youth commits another violent offense or runs away, the case immediately goes back to court.Who Benefits Most From Domestic Violence Pretrial Diversion Plans?
These programs are primarily beneficial in domestic violence cases wherein:
- You did it. Or rather, the prosecutor has enough evidence to prove the accusation against you beyond a reasonable doubt at trial. It’s always better to fight the charge and avoid the conviction/consequences that way if you can. But in cases where there is a lot of evidence against you, a pre-trial diversion program offers an alternative to avoid a permanent record conviction of a violent charge.
- You are a U.S. citizen. Legal residents and undocumented residents may face immigration consequences - including deportation - because the intervention program sometimes requires signing a guilty plea before starting the program. Then again, if you’re convicted, you face the same. It’s important to tread very carefully through this process with your lawyer if you are not a U.S. citizen.
- You do not have a professional license that could be jeopardized by entering a program. Again, because some pretrial diversion programs require an admission of guilt for the underlying offense, it can be career-ending for certain licensed professionals, such as teachers, health care workers, etc.
- You have the resources and motivation to meet all the terms of the program. These can include a 29-week domestic violence course, probation meetings, counseling, substance abuse treatment, parenting courses, parenting classes, etc. You slip up on even one of these fronts, you’ll be facing the maximum penalties for the charge - and without the opportunity to challenge the prosecutor’s assertion that you’re in non-compliance.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but offers a sense of the fact that diversion programs aren’t ideal for everyone. It is very important if you are considering a domestic violence pretrial diversion program that you not make a decision until consulting with an experienced South Florida criminal defense attorney.
If you are accused of domestic violence in Broward, Palm Beach, or Miami-Dade Counties, contact The Ansara Law Firm today for your free initial consultation at (954) 761-4011.