What Is A Diversion Program?

When someone is accused of a crime, being guilty doesn't automatically result in being charged, going to jail, or getting a criminal conviction.

In Minnesota, people accused of crimes might have the option to join a diversion program. This allows them to avoid charges, convictions, or jail time.

Minnesota's diversion programs aim to give offenders an alternative to jail and criminal convictions. The goal is to ease the burden on the criminal justice system, reduce costs, and create responsible alternatives to traditional legal processes.

There are two types of diversion programs: precharge diversion and pretrial diversion.

In a precharge diversion program, the prosecution contacts the alleged offender and offers them a chance to join a program. If successful, this program prevents the person from facing criminal charges. The advantage is that they can avoid a conviction or jail, and their case doesn't become part of the public legal system since no charges are filed. If the state contacts you about a precharge diversion program, it's advisable to consult an attorney to decide if it's the right choice.

Pretrial diversion happens after charges are filed but before the trial. This is the more common type of diversion program. When you participate in a pretrial diversion, the legal proceedings are paused, and if you successfully complete the program, the charges are dropped.

In a diversion program, participants may engage in personal or group counseling, attend drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and participate in other programs tailored to their specific needs.

Former Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal said the goal of [these] efforts is to spot and eliminate the “unfair barriers” that can keep people cycling through the criminal justice system. She said the city doesn’t intend to stop enforcing driving offenses or other crimes, but instead hopes to reduce the collateral impact they can have on some first-time or nonviolent offenders.

Who is eligible for a diversion program?

Not all Minnesota counties provide pretrial diversion programs, and not all offenders can participate. Generally, eligible cases involve low-level and nonviolent charges, and the defendant should be a first-time or minimal offender without prior participation in a diversion program. There can be exceptions depending on the county and circumstances.

If you think your case qualifies for diversion, consult your defense attorney. They can inform you of your options and negotiate with the prosecutor on your behalf. It's crucial to talk to an attorney before pleading guilty in court because once you plead guilty, you may no longer qualify for a diversion program. However, some diversion programs might require the defendant to enter a guilty plea or make admissions held in case they don't successfully complete the program.

Types of Minnesota diversion programs

There are various diversion programs available, depending on the type of crime which the defendant has been charged.

Shoplifting or Theft Diversion Program

This program is for defendants who have been accused of shoplifting or low-level theft. Eligible offenses may include theft or shoplifting at the misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor level and even sometimes at a felony level.

Defendants who agree to complete a Shoplifting or Theft diversion program will be required to complete classroom instruction and training. They may also be required to write an apology letter to the victim of their offense, complete community service, and pay restitution to the victim.

Traffic Education Diversion Program

Drivers who have received a moving violation may be eligible for the Traffic Education diversion program. The program may include an online or in-person training course that focuses on good driving habits and reviews the rules of the road. There may also be a test requirement to the program.

Driving Diversion Program

This program assists drivers with unpaid citations or fines that have led to the suspension of one’s driver’s license. Eligible offenses include Driving After Suspension and Driving After Revocation. Cases involving accidents are generally not eligible.

Participation in this program allows defendants to obtain provisional reinstatement of their license so they can legally drive. The program will require the fines or citation be paid but can be done on a payment plan. A written test, driving test, classes, or community service may also be required.

Community Restorative Justice Diversion Program

This program consists of a meeting between the defendant and a group of community members to discuss the impact of the crime on the community and create a restitution agreement.

Together, the group forms an agreement that the defendant must implement. Agreements usually include an apology letter, community service hours, and other sanctions.

Northern Star Juvenile Diversion Program

This program was developed for first- and second-time juvenile offenders who are between 13 and 18 years old. Through the use of structured activities, the goal of the program is to provide a positive alternative to the court system, while teaching leadership and decision-making skills.

What if there is no diversion program?

Pursuant to Minnesota Statute §401.065, by July 1, 1994, every county attorney of a county participating in the Community Corrections Act shall establish a pretrial diversion program for adult offenders. There are some counties in Minnesota who have not complied with this law and do not have a program. Additionally, city attorneys, who prosecute non-felony offenses, are not necessarily required to establish a diversion program. It’s possible that in one county there may be a diversion program for felony level offenses but not at the non-felony level.

In these situations, a creative defense attorney can develop a private diversion agreement to propose to the prosecution that will result in the same outcome as a formal diversion program.

Why participate in a diversion program?

As stated above, nothing will appear in the public record if the defendant successfully completes a precharge diversion program. However, if someone is charged with a crime, successfully completes a precharge diversion program and the charges are dismissed, the arrest, charges, and court proceedings are public record, except in certain juvenile cases. Even though the case is ultimately dismissed and there is no conviction, all of that information will still appear in a background check.

Minnesota law allows for a defendant to apply for an expungement when a case has been dismissed after a diversion program. The defendant must wait one year from the dismissal and cannot have any new charges in the year prior to filing for expungement. If an expungement is granted, the public record will be sealed.

If you believe you are eligible for a pretrial diversion program, contact the attorneys at Bruno Law. We have experience negotiating pretrial diversion programs for clients, including successfully obtaining entry to the programs for crimes that are typically ineligible.