There are changes coming for the Pre-Trial Diversion Programs by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. The most important change has to do with the ability of an individual to apply for an expunction on the case.
Changes to Pre-Trial Diversion Program Length
Before, when accepted into a pre-trial diversion (intervention) program they would have to sign a lengthy contract with the State of Texas. These programs used to be 1 year for misdemeanors and anywhere from 1-3 years for felonies. Now, all misdemeanors for pre-trial diversions (with the exception of the DWI program which is very different) are 6 months long.
Pre-Trial Diversion Community Service Requirements
Another change to the Pre-Trial Diversion Program is the amount of community service required. Before, the amount of community service on the contract was 80 hours, which amounted to 10 full days or 20 half days of volunteer work. This was very difficult for individuals who were full time students or those who were working full time. Now the new contracts only require 16 hours, which is only 2 days of community service. This is much more reasonable, and there is no excuse to complete the hours.
Pre-Trial Intervention and Expunction
But in my opinion, the most important change to the Pre-Trial Diversion Program in Harris County has to do with applying for an expunction. On the old contract, individuals were told that by entering the program, they are agreeing to not seek an expunction for at least 2 years from the date they the program is over and their case is dismissed. So on a normal misdemeanor shoplifting case, it would take 3 years (1 year pre trial diversion, 2 year waiting) plus any time in court that it took to actually get into the program, usually 60-90 days. Under the change certain cases, such as theft, will be immediately eligible for expunctions. This means the same person who was charged with theft could now seek an expunction after just 6 months instead of over 3 years.
However, certain cases will still have a 2 year waiting period. Some of those cases are:
- Assault-Family Member
- Terroristic Threat
- Deadly Conduct
- Resisting Arrest
Class A misdemeanors not listed above will have 1 year waiting periods instead of the old 2 year period. And any other class B misdemeanor will have no waiting period.
This is of course always subject to change as it is a policy of the District Attorney’s Office of Harris County. But as is, at the time of writing, this is a great change for those who might be unfortunate enough to be going through this process. If you have specific questions, contact our attorneys regarding your case.
There are new deadlines in the timing of pre-trial diversions. This morning in county court 5 of Harris County I had a client’s application denied for the pre-trial intervention program because she did not submit her application on time. As of recently, you must submit your application within 60 days of your first court appearance. My client submitted her application on day 68.
Applications must be submitted 1 week before court and must include a letter accepting responsibility and explaining why you deserve to be admitted into the pre-trial diversion program instead of getting deferred adjudication. I also require my clients to submit a separate letter of apology. Applications also must include 2 to 3 letters of recommendation from non-family members who are aware of the charge. Additionally, there must be proof that the applicant is in school, employed, or in the process of applying for school. And finally in certain cases additional items such as drug tests (drug cases), and anti-theft classes (theft cases), might be required.
Even though my client is in their early twenties, and a prime candidate for the pre-trial diversion program she was denied based on the fact that she procrastinated and did not get me the items I needed in the first 60 days. While I personally do not agree with this time deadline, as it does not give adequate time to the defense to conduct a full investigation of the case, it seems the DA’s office is pushing the deadline requirement hard at the moment.
It is very important to submit your items to your attorney as soon as possible. I always tell my clients that their part (letters, transcripts, proof of employment, etc) is easy. These are things that can be done in an hour or less. The hard part is getting others to give you letters. People are busy, and very rarely can people stop their everyday lives to do someone else a favor. In my experience I have seen over and over that people struggle getting recommendation letters from their friends, co-workers, teachers, etc. If you are in the unfortunate situation of having to apply for a pre-trial diversion it is essential that you ask for your letters ASAP! That way, if your friends take 3 weeks to give you the letter, you still have plenty of time before the deadline hits.
A pre-trial diversion is always a backup plan, but if you are lucky enough to qualify it’s important to take it seriously. It can result in a dismissal, and a clean record.
As a Houston Criminal Defense Attorney I get the opportunity to defend many young individuals during stressful times in their life. I see many young adults (17-21) who have gone their entire lives without being in trouble. Usually they are charged with some misdemeanor such as theft that stemmed from a brief lack of judgment. They typically enter my office scared that they ruined their future and are looking for guidance. Luckily in Harris County there is a pre-trial intervention program that is set up to give a second chance to young people who deserve it.
The process starts by submitting a pre-trial intervention application through the chief prosecutor in the court the case is in. A basic application includes a letter of apology to the victim/complainant, a letter from the defendant explaining why they need this extraordinary opportunity, letters of recommendation, indication of future goals/plans, and indication of a stable lifestyle/mitigating facts. The court evaluates the application and decided whether or not to offer admission into the program.
If accepted, the pre-trail intervention (or pre-trial diversion) program is typically one year long (can be more for more serious offenses). During this year the case in question is reset and pending. Using a recent theft case I handled as an example, what is usually included in the program is an anti-theft class, a certain amount of hours of community service (typically 80), regular reporting to the probation department (even though you are technically not on probation), random drug tests, and a drug/alcohol evaluation. The fees associated with the program are typically not more than $60 per month as per the agreement.
The bulk of the program can be completed in the first couple of months. After that, the goal for the rest of the year is to not get in trouble. When the defendant returns to court in one year, the assistant district attorney runs a criminal background check on the defendant, and if everything comes back clear the case is dismissed.
This is a true dismissal that can expunged off a record (which destroys the record for everyone). Any good Houston Criminal Defense Attorney would tell you that a pre-trial intervention dismissal is much better than a deferred adjudication (which is a type of probation) dismissal. The big difference is the fact that pre-trial intervention dismissal is eventually expunction eligible while the deferred dismissal is only eligible for a motion for non-disclosure (which will keep the record visible to law enforcement and government agencies). If you have a case you think might be eligible make sure to contact a Criminal Lawyer in Houston who can help you.