New 2019 laws on diversion and other non-conviction dispositions
This comment on new laws authorizing non-conviction dispositions is the fourth in a series of comments describing some of the 153 laws passed in 2019 restoring rights or delivering record relief. The full report on 2019 laws is available here.
Diversionary and other non-conviction dispositions
In 2019, 18 states enacted 26 laws creating, expanding, reorganizing, or otherwise supporting diversionary and deferred dispositions, to enable individuals charged with criminal offenses to avoid a conviction record. The 2019 enactments on diversionary dispositions reflect the clear trend across the country toward increasing opportunities to steer certain categories of individuals out of the system, through informal diversions, specialized treatment or intervention courts, or completing a deferred adjudication and probation period. Laws enacted in 2019 extended this favorable treatment to juveniles, military service personnel and veterans, persons with mental illness, drug and alcohol users, human trafficking victims, caregivers of children, and even certain persons charged with sex offenses.
Of particular note, Colorado enacted a major revision of its juvenile records scheme, the second in three years, making almost all juvenile offenses eligible for diversion, and expungement automatic upon successful completion of diversion “without the need fora court order,” as long as the prosecutor or victim do not object. Colorado also authorized funding for mental health diversion courts. Tennessee and Vermont also significantly expanded their programs of juvenile diversion, while Mississippi reorganized its system of specialized courts as “intervention courts.” Oregon modified diversion to avoid deportation consequences of a guilty plea. California enacted perhaps the most novel (and promising) diversion program we’ve seen in several years, authorizing the creation of pretrial diversion for primary caregivers of children,who are charged with a misdemeanor or non-serious felony offenses, except for offenses against the cared-after child. These and other diversion laws are described briefly below:
- Colorado enacted a major revision of its juvenile records scheme, the second in three years, making almost all juvenile offenses eligible for diversion, and expungement automatic upon successful completion “without the need for a court order.” See HB 1335, revising Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-1-306(4)(b)(I). This law also authorized the court to discontinue sex offender registration. Colorado also authorized funding for mental health diversion courts. (SB 211). Colorado’s impressive record of legislating on criminal records issues in recent years, for adult as well as juvenile records, is described in detail in the state’s profile in the Restoration of Rights Project.
- Tennessee addressed diversion both in the context of juveniles (HB 1319) and those charged with sex offenses (HB 624). The latter law revises provisions governing the circumstances under which a person’s name must be removed from the sex offender registry, to add successful completion of judicial diversion for certain offenses. Juveniles will now be eligible for diversion not only after a plea, but also after an adjudication. In its third new law affecting diversion, Tennessee rescinded the $350 filing fee for a defendant applying for expunction of an offense following the completion of a diversion program. See HB941.
- Vermont authorized its courts to expunge records of juvenile diversion cases after two years without a subsequent conviction, if restitution has been paid. See S105. While referral for juvenile diversion remains in the control of the district attorney, courts are authorized to impose a deferred sentence for a less serious crime even if the prosecutor objects. 13 V.S.A. § 7041. This provision was amended by S105 to delete the age limits on the court’s authority under this section, so that it no longer applies only where the defendant is under 28 years of age.
- Mississippi reorganized its system of specialized problem-solving courts (including drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans’ courts) as “intervention courts,” and made an Intervention Courts Advisory Committee responsible for coordinating the policies and operation of these courts through the State. See HB 1352, Code Ann. §§ 9-23-1, 9-23-9. These courts are primarily aimed at reducing the incidence of drug abuse as a driver of criminal behavior, but they are aimed at different populations and have differing eligibility requirements. See, e.g., § 9-25-1 (veterans courts); § 9-27-7 (mental health courts). These courts all offer the possibility that successful participants in their programs may avoid conviction and become eligible for expungement of the record upon successful completion.
- Oregon enacted a law formalizing the terms of conditional discharge in controlled substance cases, specifically omitting the requirement under preexisting law that a defendant must first plead or be found guilty. (HB 3201). Under the new law, a participant must enter into a “probation agreement” waiving various trial and appellate rights, and must agree to pay restitution and court-appointed attorney fees, with no provision for waiver, following an unfortunate practice of restricting the benefit of certain non-conviction dispositions to people who can pay for them. The agreement “may not contain a requirement that the defendant enter a plea of guilty or no contest on any charge in the accusatory instrument,” a provision evidently intended to avoid the collateral consequences of a finding of guilt. This law is also covered in the section on relief from immigration consequences.
In more incremental extensions of diversion:
- California authorized the creation of pretrial diversion for primary caregivers of children,who are charged with a misdemeanor or non-serious felony offenses, except for offenses against the cared-after child. (SB 394). See Cal. Penal Code § 1001.83.
- Missouri (HB 547) and Oregon (HB 2462) enacted laws aimed at giving service members and veterans the benefit of diversion.
- Idaho (H78) and South Carolina (H3601) authorized diversion in DUI cases.
- Texas expanded eligibility for deferred adjudication to victims of human trafficking (HB 2758), and created a family violence pretrial diversion pilot program in Bexar County (HB 3529), and authorized deferred adjudication for certain intoxication offenses (HB 3582).
- Washington established a substance abuse diversion program (SB 5380), and authorized a law enforcement grant program to expand alternatives to arrest and jail processes (HB 1767).
- Nebraska authorized restorative justice as a form or condition of diversion (LB595).
- Nevada expanded eligibility for veterans and military service members specialty court programs (AB222).
- Wyoming addressed diversion in its expansion of juvenile expungement in HB 44, discussed in the section on expungement.
- Florida put in place a system of reporting for its various problem-solving courts (HB 7125).
- Minnesota authorized cities and counties to create driver’s license reinstatement diversion programs (SF 8).
- Rhode Island authorized superior court diversion programs (SB 962). See R.I. Gen. Laws § 8-2-39.3.
- West Virginia established a specialized court program for military service members (SB 40). See W. Va.Code §§ 62-16-1, et seq.
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