At least one Massachusetts district attorney seems to understand that not everyone who possesses drugs or commits crimes as a result of drug addiction needs to be prosecuted and treated like a criminal. The Essex County District Attorney’s Office frequently utilizes a decade old treatment program to educate, rehabilitate and forgive select offenders rather than forcing them to defend criminal charges. In that county, diversion instead of prosecution of drug possession charges is the preferred course of action for select crimes. Aspects of the program from a criminal defense perspective are discussed in this article.
How Does the Drug Diversion Program Work?
Before court each morning a list of new arrests and summonses is provided to the district attorney’s office. Someone in that office screens these cases and identifies candidates suitable for the diversion program. Once that determination is made the clerk’s office gets notified so that the defendant avoids arraignment in the criminal arraignment session.
Bear in mind that the district attorney’s office might not recommend every appropriate candidate for the program. This is where having hired an experienced criminal defense attorney helps. Anytime we are retained on a case like where diversion is possible and not already screened by the district attorney’s office, we ask the judge to continue the arraignment. This affords an opportunity to convince the district attorney that diversion is right for our client.
One diversion is recommended the defendant is evaluated for drug dependence and substance abuse issues. The results of the evaluation dictate the course of treatment. Detox, counseling, alternative programs, drug testing, monitoring and more are implemented. This is done on a case by case basis tailored to the needs of the offender. If the defendant successfully completes the program the case never gets prosecuted. There is no arraignment and criminal record.
Does Diversion Cover Only Drug Crimes?
The simple answer to this question is “no”. The district attorney’s office understands that there are many crimes that result directly from drug abuse. Trespassing, shoplifting, larceny under $250 and disorderly person are among the crimes that stem from the use of drugs. In many instances these crimes can be referred to diversion. Again, it is important to remember that the district attorney cannot identify all deserving candidates in its screening process. Getting yourself a lawyer immediately can help ensure placement into a diversion program however. You don’t want to wait until you are arraigned as at that point you may have lost the opportunity to take advantage of the program.
What if I Already Have a Criminal Record?
The diversion program typically contemplates treatment for first time offenders, not people with criminal records. There can however be alternatives to prosecution for drug dependent people in certain circumstances. Prosecutors and legislators are now realizing that drug addiction cannot be curtailed through incarceration. Rather, education and treatment are becoming the preferred course of action for certain drug crime defendants.
Hire a Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney
Stephen Neyman has been in the criminal law business for nearly three decades. Call our office now at 617-263-6800 so that we can help you with your criminal case.