When a first-time offender gets into trouble with the law, the consequences can be more severe than a person who has a criminal record. There is an obvious benefit to keeping one's record clear, and this will be the case whether one is a college student either attending school in Philadelphia or visiting Philadelphia, a professional who makes a regrettable decision, or the average person trying to make their way in life without additional obstacles.
What is the Summary Diversion Program in Philadelphia?
Although the role of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office is to prosecute criminal offenders, including first-time offenders as necessary, it is not altogether heartless. In conjunction with the Philadelphia court system, known as the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has created "diversion" programs to, as the name implies, divert a criminal case from the path towards trial to a potential resolution that will be more favorable to the person charged and also the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and the Philadelphia criminal court system. When criminal charges are diverted, its allows the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office to utilize its resources in a more effective manner with the goal of prosecuting more serious crimes. Such programs are a "win-win" for everyone involved. One such program is the Philadelphia "Summary Diversion" Program, and an explanation of the program follows below.
Will I be eligible for the Philadelphia Summary Diversion Program?
The majority of defendants charged with a summary citation who have not previously participated in the Summary Diversion program are eligible, with the exception of the following charges due to the nature of the charge; therefore being automatically scheduled for trial in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
- Criminal mischief
- Cruelty to animals
- Criminal offenses involving cutting weapons (such as a knife) or weapons in general
There are exceptions to this general rule, and an effective attorney may be able to secure the agreement of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in resolving a Criminal Mischief charge, for example, through Summary Diversion.
In addition, any defendant issued citations by the following agencies also are not permitted to enroll and are automatically scheduled for trial in Philadelphia Municipal Court:
- Pennsylvania SPCA (Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals)
- Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
- Pennsylvania Vehicle Fraud Investigations
- Pennsylvania Department of Revenue (which handles financial benefits and welfare fraud for example)
How does the Philadelphia Summary Diversion Program work?
If a defendant's case is approved for the Summary Diversion Program, the defendant will not enter a plea. In other words, the defendant will not plead guilty, not guilty, or no contest for example. Upon successful completion of the program, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, known as the "Commonwealth" in criminal court proceedings (because it represents the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), will withdraw prosecution of the criminal charges against the defendant; thereby withdrawing the criminal case against the defendant.
What are the specific conditions of the Philadelphia Summary Diversion Program? What will I have to do to complete the program?
Defendants accepted into the Summary Diversion Program in Philadelphia attend the program on a Saturday. The program takes place at the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center,also known as the "CJC." The Criminal Justice Center is located at 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. The CJC is located across the street from the northeast corner of Philadelphia's City Hall.
Is there a cost to participate in the Summary Diversion Program in Philadelphia?
The cost of the Summary Diversion Program is $200, and full payment must be made by money order and payable on the day the defendant attends the program.
Are there are special considerations regarding how an Underage Drinking charge or a Fake ID charge is resolved through the Philadelphia Summary Diversion Program?
If this is the first time a defendant is facing a Philadelphia underage drinking or a Philadelphia fake ID charge, upon successful completion of the program the Philadelphia Court, and more specifically, the First Judicial District's Municipal Court Unit, will amend the charge to disorderly conduct and the defendant will not lose their driver's license as would be the case if a person, often a college student, is convicted or pleads guilty to underage drinking or possessing a false ID.
This consideration will only be available on one occasion, and if the defendant is cited again for underage drinking or having a fake ID, Pennsylvania's Department of Traffic, known as "PennDOT," will be notified of the charge and disposition and the defendant's driver's license or permit will be suspended.
What happens if I do not complete the Philadelphia Summary Diversion Program?
Upon successful completion of the program and the payment of court costs (which are reduced compared to if the criminal case was adjudicated at the trial stage), the defendant will not have to appear for any future court date that may pertain to the matter. Nonetheless, failure to complete the Summary Diversion Program will result in the matter being scheduled for trial in Philadelphia Municipal Court.
Can I get my charges expunged if I complete the Philadelphia Summary Diversion Program?
The Philadelphia criminal court system was previously more expansive in automatically expunging a defendant's arrest record and criminal charges after successful completion of a diversion program. Philadelphia has limited this benefit over the past several years, however. A defendant's case will be automatically expunged after successful completion of the Summary Diversion Program, but it can take up to six months for the expungement to be attended to by the Philadelphia Court. (For reasons explained below, this potential six months of delay can add significant overall delay to a person's prospective expungement; this can be a concern for a college student, a professional such as a nurse, doctor, or teacher who has to renew his or her professional license, and others who need to have their record cleared as soon as possible.) Because most any defendant will often want to get his or her criminal record expunged as quickly as possible after successful completion of a Philadelphia diversionary program such as the Summary Diversion Program, there are options.
One option being that after completion of an applicable diversion program, a defendant can petition the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - Criminal Division to expunge all records related to the case. When a defendant petitions the Philadelphia Court for an expungement of a criminal record, the expungement process in Philadelphia takes approximately four to six months from start to finish. The Philadelphia Court charges a $147 filing fee. Once an expungement order is granted by the Philadelphia Court, it is forwarded to the Pennsylvania State Police and the Philadelphia Police Department for those agencies to expunge the defendant's records. The Pennsylvania State Police will forward the expungement order to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to request that the FBI update its records. Because the FBI is a federal agency, it is not bound by Pennsylvania law, and accordingly, is not bound by a Philadelphia expungement order. Nonetheless, the FBI will, as a courtesy, generally update its records to minimize the impact of the defendant's Philadelphia arrest and charge(s). In most instances, it will take the Philadelphia Police Department longer than the Pennsylvania State Police to clear a defendant's records. Both the Pennsylvania State Police and the Philadelphia Police Department will provide notice to the defendant, through the defendant's attorney, that the defendant's records were expunged. (As noted above, the total length of time it will generally take for a person's criminal record to be cleared by the Philadelphia Court, the Philadelphia Police Department, and the Pennsylvania State Police is approximately four to six months once the expungement process is started.)
Attorney to Help with Philadelphia Summary Diversion Program | Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney
Facing a criminal charge or citation, especially for the first time, can be difficult even for the strongest person. A person may have accomplished much in life, and but for an unfortunate misunderstanding, an honest mistake, or merely being at the wrong place at the wrong time in Philadelphia, a criminal charge or citation can result in potentially severe consequences if the matter is not properly addressed and resolved in the most favorable manner possible.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience both on the front-line of, and behind-the-scenes in the Philadelphia Court System; having worked in various roles as an employee of the court and having passionately fought for clients for close to a decade in private practice. Joseph Lento knows how to get favorable decisions made on behalf of clients; decisions that can affect a person's life both in the short and long-term. If you or a loved one is facing a criminal charge or citation in Philadelphia, it is critical have a dedicated champion in your or your loved one's corner. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to learn how he can help.