When someone is facing a South Florida misdemeanor domestic violence charge, it’s worth exploring whether they qualify for a diversion program that would allow them to avoid a conviction.
As our Broward domestic violence defense lawyers can explain, not every defendant is going to qualify and it may not be the best strategic move for every case. But it’s important to discuss the possibility with your attorney.
What is a Domestic Violence Diversion Program?
A diversion program is a type of pre-trial intervention that essentially diverts the criminal case away from the usual track (which can end in conviction, jail, and fines) and instead allows qualifying defendants to complete educational courses and/or service requirements. When the program requirements are successfully met, the charges in the criminal case get dropped and the case is dismissed.
Some of the offenses that disqualify a defendant from a DV diversion program include:
- Battery in which the defendant is accused of using substantial force to slap, punch, kick, or push an alleged victim to the ground.
- Any battery that involves “degrading acts,” such as urinating or spitting on the alleged victim.
- Any battery that involves alleged strangulation or choking of the victim.
- Violations of domestic violence injunctions.
In general, domestic violence diversion program offenses are those involving minor intentional touching but don’t result in serious physical injury. If a defendant has a prior conviction or arrest for a felony as an adult, more than one misdemeanor adult conviction, or any prior domestic violence arrests, convictions, or pending charges, he or she will be ineligible for the domestic violence diversion program. No one is allowed to enter the diversion program more than once in their life.
It’s important to note that domestic violence charges – even those that are dropped due to a diversion program – generally cannot be sealed or expunged. Evidence of the arrest still shows up on your record. That’s why if there is a decent chance that your Broward domestic violence defense lawyer can successfully fight the charges against you, that may be in your best interests. But diversion programs can be an excellent alternative when there is a fair amount of evidence against you in a first-time, misdemeanor Florida domestic violence charge.
What to Expect in a Florida Domestic Violence Diversion Program
In Florida’s 17th Judicial Circuit (which covers Broward County), the Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Diversion Program is administered and supervised by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office Probation Department.
Qualifying defendants have 30 days from the time of their arraignment to decide whether they want to participate in the program. You must submit a plea of guilty to be admitted to the program. However, your sentencing on that plea is set for eight months later. If you successfully finish the diversion program, the plea is vacated and the case is “nolle prossed,” meaning it’s effectively dismissed as prosecutors are no longer pursuing it.
Participation in the diversion program requires defendants immediately report to their probation officer and abide all rules and regulations of that program. There is a 26-week court-ordered batterer’s intervention program that the defendant must successfully complete. If alcohol or substance abuse was a factor in the underlying case, it’s possible the defendant may be ordered to submit to a substance abuse evaluation and (depending on the results) substance abuse intervention and regular drug or alcohol tests. They may be ordered not to contact the victim, and they might also be ordered to pay restitution.
If a defendant does not comply with the terms of the diversion program (with non-compliance determined by the state attorney’s office), there will be a sentencing hearing and the defendant will be sentenced on that original guilty plea.
If you have questions about Florida’s misdemeanor domestic violence diversion program, our Broward criminal defense lawyers can help.
Call Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Office of the State Attorney, 17th Judicial Circuit, Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Diversion Program