Atmore Municipal Court officials will soon begin implementation of a new pretrial diversion program that will give most, but not all, non-violent offenders a chance to have their respective legal transgressions excluded from their permanent criminal record.
The program allows imposition of certain conditions of behavior and conduct over a specific period of time that allow a qualified offender to have the charges against him or her “reduced, dismissed without prejudice, or otherwise mitigated” if all its conditions are met during the time frame set by the city court judge and prosecutor.
Municipal Court Clerk Van Hughes told city council members prior to their February 12 approval of the program that offenders must apply for inclusion in the program and be accepted by Municipal Court Judge Todd Stearns and City Prosecutor Joe Whitt.
“They have to apply and be accepted,” Hughes explained. “But someone with a DUI, any criminal charges, even traffic charges can have those charges expunged from their record if they complete the program. If they are accepted and don’t complete the program, they will still have to pay all fines and court costs.”
Such offenders will be considered for admittance into the program based on any of several circumstances, including approval of the arresting officer, the offender’s prior record, an admission of guilt or remorse or a negative result on a current drug test.
No free ride
Although an individual who completes the pretrial diversion program will avoid a permanent stain on his or her name, the program is anything but a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.
Instead, whether they complete the program or not, participants will have to not only pay fines, court costs and other fees and assessments, but also must pay a non-refundable application fee based upon the type of charge they face.
For Class A misdemeanors and driving under the influence, that fee is $1,000; for Class B and Class C misdemeanors the fee is $500; and for non-DUI traffic offenses the fee is $300.
According to the ordinance establishing the pretrial diversion program, the one-time administration fee must be paid in full, in advance of starting the court-set agenda, which varies from case to case.
Those who apply for inclusion in the pretrial program must meet several other criteria, including voluntarily waiving their right to a speedy trial; taking part in substance abuse treatment; discontinuing the use of drugs and alcohol; maintaining or seeking a job; observing curfews; submission to random drug testing; and others.
Not for everyone
Not every applicant or offender will qualify for the pretrial program.
Those charged with any offense involving violence or aggression resulting in injury to a law enforcement officer will be summarily rejected, as will those charged with an offense that involves fleeing from or trying to elude a law enforcement officer and those involving violence in which a weapon is used or where the victims include children under the age of 19.
Also prohibited from taking advantage of the program are any individual holding a commercial driver’s license, operating a commercial motor vehicle or holding a commercial driver learning permit who is charged with violating a city or state traffic statute.
Erasing the past
Although the program is an expensive one, city officials say it will offer an opportunity for a casual offender to rid himself or herself of a black mark that will otherwise follow the offender throughout his or her life.
“Sometimes people make mistakes,” Hughes said. “This gives them a second chance.”
Mayor Jim Staff agreed.
“Sometimes people slip up in life; this program is for when that happens,” he said.
Court officers are expected to begin taking applications for the program within the next few weeks.