The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is responsible for the management of the various programs within the Diversion Court Unit. The First Judicial District of Pennsylvania has been among the most advanced in the development of diversionary initiatives and alternative sentencing options. They now have more than a dozen such programs including the Accelerated Misdemeanor Program, DUI Treatment, and Mental Health Courts, Future Forward, and several others. Defendants can avoid criminal convictions and the often difficult “collateral consequences” that result.
Purposes for Pre-Trial Diversion
Criminal courts statewide continue to face increasingly large caseloads and jail overcrowding. This coincides with stagnant or declining departmental budgets and a scarcity of grant funding. Philadelphia's administration and the District Attorney have sought alternatives to processing cases in traditional ways. One highly effective measure is the diversion of cases involving low-level defendants charged with non-violent offenses.
The traditional criminal court process has shown to be ineffective in reducing recidivism among certain categories of offenders. This is largely because the penalties imposed fail to address key underlying factors including dependence on drugs and alcohol and mental illness. Pre-trial diversion programs or “prosecutor-led diversion” typically halt the criminal proceedings in favor of rehabilitation.
Offenders will typically undergo an evaluation and a needs assessment to determine their treatment needs. Qualified defendants are then transitioned to community-based rehabilitation programs. These involve community service, probationary supervision, behavioral therapy, and treatment for substance abuse and mental health problems.
Another critically important benefit is that defendants can avoid a criminal conviction. Those with a criminal record often experience long-term obstacles when subjected to background screening. This greatly hinders their access to:
- Employment: According to the American Bar Association, roughly 87% of employers require potential employees to disclose any criminal convictions and subsequently conduct background checks.
- Professional licensing: Pennsylvania has roughly 29 licensing boards for professions including nursing, cosmetology, and administrators of long-term care facilities. Under current state law, the boards may deny an application based on criminal history.
- Housing: Many landlords now require applicants to submit to background screening and credit checks. Those with some types of criminal convictions are also ineligible for public housing.
- Other public assistance: Certain felony offenders in Pennsylvania are ineligible for public benefits for 10 years.
- Second-Amendment rights: Under federal law, those with criminal convictions for crimes that are punishable by more than one year of imprisonment are prohibited from possessing firearms.
Violating the Conditions of Diversionary Programs
Defendants who are actively participating in a diversionary or treatment court program may be disqualified for violating the provisions. For example, this applies to defendants who fail to comply with treatment requirements in the Philadelphia Accelerated Misdemeanor Program. If the participant is convicted of new charges or fails to complete community service, they may be ordered to appear in court to resume the original criminal proceedings.
Defense Attorney in Philadelphia for Drug-Related Offenses
Have you recently been arrested on allegations of committing a criminal offense in Philadelphia? Local prosecutors today are frequently managing an overwhelming number of cases. When operating hastily, the legal rights of a defendant may be disregarded. Joseph D. Lento aggressively defends clients in these matters. Feel free to contact the Lento Law Firm for a case evaluation at (215) 535-5353.