Several prosecutors in California have raised concerns about a bill Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law on Sept. 30. They are worried because Assembly Bill 3234 allows superior court judges to order criminal offenders to enter diversion programs even when district attorneys object. Once the programs have been completed, charges are dismissed, and offenders are left with no criminal record. Prosecutors say that removing information about prior offenses will make it far more difficult for them to determine appropriate penalties.
Prior DUI convictions
Two Orange County prosecutors recently mentioned impaired driving cases when they were questioned about the wisdom of AB 3234. One of the cases involves an alleged drunk driver who struck and killed a pregnant woman, and the other is the prosecution of a DUI suspect who is accused of running a red light before hitting and killing a pedestrian. Both of these defendants face harsher penalties because they have previous DUI convictions. However, if they had been ordered into and successfully completed a diversion program, prosecutors would not know about their prior behavior.
Diversion programs have generally been reserved for nonviolent offenders with basically clean records who are not considered a threat to the community. AB 3234 allows judges to order diversion programs in cases involving more serious crimes like elder abuse, hate crimes, vehicular homicide, and the sexual assault of minors aged 14 years or older. Supporters of the legislation say that action was needed to reduce California’s prison population and ease the burden on the state’s taxpayers. They also believe that judges should be given alternatives to incarceration whenever possible.
Reduced sentences are usually negotiated
Most of the sentences handed down by judges are the result of negotiations between prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys. During these discussions, defense attorneys may argue that a diversionary program or other reduced sentence is warranted by citing mitigating factors that paint their clients in a more favorable light. If you are charged with an eligible crime, your defense attorney could argue that diversion is appropriate because of your previous record of law-abiding behavior, your genuine remorse and willingness to accept responsibility for your actions, and the support you receive from your family and friends.