With mandatory sentencing minimums and similar harsh punishments written into the criminal code, being convicted of a drug crime can lead people to get caught in a cycle that may be impossible to break out of. However, first-time offenders may be able to avoid this road if they can get into diversion programs. Here's more information about this alternative sentencing option and what it takes to get accepted into a program.     

What is a First-Time Drug Offender Diversion Program?

A drug diversion program is an alternative sentencing option where the defendant is diverted to a program where they can receive counseling, treatment for drug abuse or addiction, vocational training, and partake in other services designed to help the individual avoid reoffending in the future. These programs typically last anywhere from a few months to a few years depending on the jurisdiction, and may require the defendant to pay a fee. For instance, the diversion program in Gila County, Arizona lasts up to 2 years and costs $1,500.

To enter the program, the defendant is typically required to plead guilty to the charges against him or her. In exchange for completing the diversion program and staying out of trouble for a period of time, the case against the person may be dismissed and the record of the incident sealed or destroyed. However, if the person fails to complete the program, the case against the defendant will proceed as normal.

Eligibility Requirements

The exact eligibility requirements may vary a little from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In general, the person must:

  • Be a first-time offender. This includes not having a juvenile record or previous drug conviction.
  • Have never participated in a diversion program before.
  • Be charged with a minor, non-violent drug crime such as possession. A weapon must not have been involved in the incident.

Possibly most crucial of all is the person must appear to be someone who would benefit from being in the diversion program. The spaces in these programs are often limited, so the judge may only be willing to consider this option for defendants who are least likely to reoffend. For instance, a person who has a stable home life, is in school, and/or committed to getting treatment for a drug problem may be approved for this alternative sentencing.

Convincing the judge this is the best option in your case may require some legal finagling on the part of an experienced attorney. The diversion program is available at both the state and federal level, so this option is usually open to people who are charged with felonies. It's best to work with a criminal defense lawyer (such as one from Pollack & Ball LLC) who knows the system and can develop a legal strategy that lets you take advantage of a diversion program to avoid jail time for a drug charge.