Each year, many Texans dust off the old Monopoly board for a family game night. Maybe you played as a kid or have never played. Either way, a popular Monopoly phrase has made its way into our slang: “Get out of jail free.” While few things in the real-world are ever free, it generally means escaping punishment, and it can often mean the difference between a life-altering conviction and freedom.
At Chappell, Lanehart & Stangl, our objective is to help our clients successfully navigate the judicial system so they can continue with their lives and hopefully avoid facing the emotionally and financially devastating repercussions of a conviction, incarceration and a permanent record.
Our years of experience and reputation provide us many ways of helping our clients, including a potential resolution called pretrial diversion. It’s how we recently kept a college student charged with drug possession out of prison and in the classroom. You can think of it as being like the “get out of jail” card.
The technical definition of pretrial diversion is“an alternative to prosecution which seeks to divert certain offenders from traditional criminal justice processing into a program of supervision and services,” which is usually supervised by your local probation office. That’s a mouthful, so here’s what it means for anyone facing criminal charges: supervision for first-time offenders in lieu of prosecution. It gives people a way to atone for their actions without many of the lingering effects of a deferred adjudication or conviction.
Pretrial Diversion vs. Other Outcomes
Many people confuse pretrial diversion with deferred adjudication, probation and orders of non-disclosure, but there are important differences to understand.
A popular misconception is that a successfully completed deferred adjudication results in a cleared record, but that’s simply not the case. In Texas, folks that get in trouble sometimes end up being monitored by a process called community supervision (“probation”), and it generally means that instead of being locked up in the county jail or prison, a person can remain free in the community but must abide by certain conditions like having a job, not using illegal drugs, and most importantly not picking up another offense. Usually, this results in a conviction. However, there is a special type of probation called deferred adjudication, typically offered to first time offenders, which results in a dismissal of the charge if successfully completed.
A person can then seek to keep the case out of public view by applying for an order of nondisclosure. It’s important to know that completing a deferred adjudication doesn’t automatically seal a person’s record. An order of disclosure is required, and even if granted, the charge will still be visible to law enforcement and myriad state entities that oversee certain professions, such as teaching and nursing. Additionally, in other situations, such as adopting a child, an order of nondisclosure will not keep the case from being seen.
Avoid Court and Get Your Case Dismissed
On the other hand, a pretrial diversion prevents you from ever having to go to court. In essence, you make an agreement with the prosecutor that puts you on an informal probation. You are placed under the same terms and conditions as someone who has been put on official probation, but if you successfully complete everything, the case is dismissed.
While the end result is the same as a deferred adjudication (i.e. the charge is dismissed), there is a huge difference in how a person’s record can be cleared. Instead of an order of nondisclosure, which only results in a record being sealed but still potentially accessible, a successfully completed pretrial diversion allows for an expunction, which results in all records being destroyed and not accessible in the future. Once an expunction is granted, a person can legally deny the offense ever happened.
In short, a pretrial diversion is one of the best “get out of jail” cards we can play if you ever find yourself arrested. It takes an experienced lawyer to resolve serious felony charges with an option like pretrial diversion, which we have done in many cases. Remember, pretrial diversion, probation and deferred adjudication are all different things, with different consequences and different impacts on your record.
Here at Chappell, Lanehart & Stangl, we are able and willing to help you navigate the minefield that is our legal system, and we will use our substantial resources to get you the best possible outcome in your case. As always, the first consultation is free, so please feel free to set up an appointment to visit with Chuck or Fred.
Chuck Lanehart obtained a pretrial diversion for his client, the student was facing the possibility of a 20 year prison sentence, a $10,000 fine, and a felony conviction which would remain on his record for life. Instead, he will be required to serve a one year pretrial diversion. At the completion of the pretrial diversion, the cases will be rejected and the client will be eligible for an expunction.