There is a first time for nearly everything in life. For Louisiana’s criminal offenders, the first arrest is often the consequence of poor decision-making. As a first-time offender, you are likely new to the criminal justice system and may be worried about having ended up on the wrong side of the law. The state government understands that many offenders simply made some bad choices along the way, and that, for many, a first offense may be the only offense they will ever commit. Louisiana offers pretrial diversion programs for certain nonviolent misdemeanor or felony offenders as an opportunity to clear their criminal record and avoid incarceration.
Qualifying for a Pretrial Diversion Program
To qualify as a first-time offender in Louisiana, you must show that you have had no previous exposure to the criminal justice system. This means you cannot already have a criminal record. If you first committed an offense as a juvenile, you may be barred from entering a pretrial diversion program.
Common first offenses in Louisiana include relatively minor offenses such as:
- Alcohol possession by a minor
- Simple battery or assault
- Drug possession or possession with intent to sell
- Reckless conduct
- Reckless driving or racing
It is up to the District Attorney to determine eligibility for a pretrial diversion program. If the D.A. determines that you are eligible, you must enter a conditional no contest or guilty plea under Article 893 or 894, depending on whether the charge is a misdemeanor (894) or felony (893). Such a plea defers the conviction, meaning that the judge will not accept the plea until you fulfill the obligations of the pretrial diversion program.
It is possible that a first-time offender will be automatically offered pretrial diversion; however, oftentimes, a first-time offender requires the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney to negotiate on his behalf. Ultimately, the pretrial diversion program strives to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders by providing counseling and other services to deter future criminal activity.
Requirements of a Pretrial Diversion Program
Pretrial diversion is a type of probation offered to first-time offenders to keep them out of overpopulated prisons and jails. The requirements to complete the program are determined on an individual basis that takes into consideration the offense for which the offender was charged. Regardless of your specific offense, however, you may be expected to partake in:
- Random drug and alcohol tests
- Substance abuse treatment
- Community service
You will also be required to pay for the program through court fees. These programs can cost thousands of dollars to complete. The costs you face depend on the charges against you. Typically, DUI charges cost more to rehabilitate than lesser drug charges. Enrollment fees may be lower for non-drug offenses. Talk with your Louisiana criminal defense lawyer to get a rough estimate of what you may face should you be eligible and willing to participate in this option.
Completing a Pretrial Diversion Program
A pretrial diversion can take a significant chunk out of your day. Typically, first-time offenders complete the program in 6-12 months, depending on the charges against them. After successful completion, you will no longer be convicted of the offense for which you were charged; however, your arrest record will remain until it is expunged. You must wait five years upon completing the pretrial diversion program before your arrest becomes eligible for expungement. During this time, your arrest will be discoverable on your criminal record.
Why You Need a Louisiana Criminal Defense Lawyer Now
Whether you have just been arrested or charges have been filed, the sooner you acquire legal help the better your chances of taking full advantage of these programs will be should you be eligible. Attorney Eric G. Johnson of The John D. & Eric G. Johnson Law Firm is committed to excellence in all areas of criminal law. He will thoroughly evaluate your case and gather all the evidence possible to present your case in the most favorable light. From facing formal charges to pursuing expungement, Eric will take care of your case with a strong attention to detail and personal commitment.
To schedule a free consultation with Eric, call 318-377-1555 or contact The John D. & Eric G. Johnson Law Firm online to discuss your case.