Many people who have been charged with a crime have never been in trouble before and have little to no experience with the criminal case process.
Fortunately, for many first-time offenders or someone charged with a minor crime, there are options to avoid formal prosecution for a California criminal case.
It's always a stressful experience for someone to be charged with a crime, but there are some opportunities to avoid the harsh consequences of a criminal conviction.
Not every defendant will qualify for an alternative prosecution program and some are only available for defendant's charged with a misdemeanor crime, but there are alternatives for felony level charges.
Through the process of prefiling intervention, our experienced team of criminal defense attorneys has enjoyed substantial success in persuading prosecuting agencies to drop, or reject, criminal cases completely.
In some cases, however, the proof against the client is strong or the accusations are sufficiently serious that simply rejecting a case outright is not realistic.
Luckily, there are other alternatives to formal prosecution which may be imposed in an appropriate case.
These alternatives are often known as diversion programs and typically allow the defendant to earn a dismissal of the charges by completing certain obligations.
This article discusses these prefiling diversionary outcomes in lieu of formal prosecution in Los Angeles criminal cases.
City Attorney Office Hearing
One of the most common forms of prefiling diversion is an informal City Attorney office hearing. Hearing officers with the City Attorney's office are prosecutors who meet with suspects and their attorneys, as well as alleged victims, in an informal office setting rather than a formal court proceeding.
There is no judge or court report in these hearings, and defendants do not have a right to an appointed public defender, but do have the right to be represented by privately retained defense counsel.
The informal office hearing is an opportunity for the defendant to be presented with the specific allegations against them, typically in the form of a written police report, and give the hearing officer feedback.
In most cases, because of the informal nature of the proceeding, the advice from defense counsel is to allow the defendant to speak as long as the questions are reasonable.
This is of course very different from a formal court proceeding in which the defendant would rarely be advised to speak about the factual allegations against them. The result of City Attorney office hearing is almost always the dismissal or rejection of the case for formal filing.
Some hearing officers, particularly in domestic violence cases, will require the defendant to show good faith by completing anger management, counseling, or some other requirement such as community service.
By completing these obligations, the defendant acknowledges the seriousness of the accusations. It should be noted however that the City Attorney's office is not bound legally by their decision to reject a case after an informal office hearing.
In rare cases, usually because new evidence or witnesses come to light, the decision will be made to go forward with formal criminal filing even after an informal hearing. The City Attorney can do so at any time up until the applicable statute of limitations.
Neighborhood Justice Program
Another form of prefiling diversion is the Neighborhood Justice program. Usually available in minor theft cases involving first-time offenders, this is a more formal community service-based diversion.
Again, by completing the obligations of the program, the defendant earns a complete dismissal of the charges.
This is a substantial benefit as the defendant can honestly answer “no” to a question asking if they have ever been charged with a crime.
Some local prosecutorial agencies offer other forms of prefiling diversion through which a dismissal of charges can be earned.
In one recent case, the defendant was accused of shoplifting from a grocery store.
The client, who had no prior criminal history and regarded the incident as a simple oversight, was permitted to complete an informal prefiling diversion through the local prosecuting agency which consisted of performing community service at a local recreational facility.
By completing the hours, the client earned a dismissal of the charges and can honestly say she was never charged, much less convicted of a crime.
Alternative Prosecution Program
The Alternative Prosecution Program (APPS) is a diversion program in Los Angeles that is conducted by private company called American Justice Associates. This program offers an alternative to criminal prosecution and will result in the dismissal of misdemeanor charges if successfully completed.
It was developed with support of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office and is a program for prefiling alternative to criminal prosecution. They determine eligibility for certain defendant's and requirements like counseling and restitution.
If a defendant is eligible, they will have to pay a fee for materials and monitoring. The AAPS program must be requested by the City Attorney. Defendants are provided with a workbook that can be completed at their home while being monitored by APPS, who will send the results to the City Attorney.
A common APPS Program defendant has no prior records and are facing misdemeanor charges. Some common charges include:
- hit and run with no injuries under California Vehicle Code 20002
- petty theft under Penal Code 484(a),
- lewd conduct under penal Code 647(a), and
- simple possession of marijuana under Health and Safety Code 11357.
If the case is approved by the City Attorney, they will contact defendant to let them know they have the AAPS option rather than court. At this point, the defendant is responsible for making arrangements and completing the program. If they are accepted into the program, their court dates are suspended until the program is completed.
Diversion of Criminal Charges Before Formal Filing
Under California law, the diversion of charges before a formal filing has the added benefit of rendering the defendant's arrest merely a detention for California state law purposes.
Some more in depth background checks such as those conducted by law enforcement, federal agencies, healthcare agencies, schools, and others may still show the arrest.
However, legally in California an arrest is merely a detention for all purposes when it did not result in the filing of formal charges by a prosecuting agency.
Prefiling diversion is an excellent outcome for many defendants who would otherwise face formal criminal charges which, even if they eventually result in acquittal, will always be on the defendant's record.
By completing relatively minor requirements, a dismissal can be secured which keeps the defendant's record clean.
If you, or someone you know, has been arrested for a crime and is interested in pursuing a prefiling diversion option through a prefiling intervention with an experienced team of criminal defense attorneys, contact our office for an initial consultation.
Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm located at 1875 Century Park E #705, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
We are also located next to the Van Nuys Court at 14401 Sylvan St #112 Van Nuys, CA 91401. Contact us for an immediate response at (310) 328-3776.