In June 2013, District Attorney Susan Reed openly discussed the possibility of implementing a pretrial diversion program in Bexar County. While most major cities in Texas already have such programs in place, the Bexar County program would be the first of its kind. Pretrial diversion programs offer defendants the possibility of having their cases dismissed. Unfortunately, more attention has been given to why District Attorney Reed chose to discuss this program when she did rather than the details of what such a program would entail. These concerns are understandable given that the District Attorney stated in her 2010 reelection campaign that she was opposed to any diversion program for nonviolent offenders. But the controversies at the District Attorney’s office should not keep the public from gaining a clearer picture of the impact that a pretrial diversion program could have on the local criminal justice system.
Does San Antonio have a pretrial diversion program?
Pretrial diversion programs generally offer courts an alternative to punishment. This usually means that defendants can have their charges dismissed by participating in court-ordered education or rehabilitation programs. The justification for this alternative is that it gives defendants a second chance and addresses the motivations that may have driven them to criminal activities in the first place. But even the most well-intentioned diversion programs can have downsides. In many jurisdictions, for example, defendants are required to make bail before they can participate in a diversion program.This often disfavors defendants with limited financial resources. Additionally, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, states with diversion programs usually require participation to be voluntary and guarantee access to counsel before the accused makes their decision.
It is unclear whether a pretrial diversion program in Bexar County would have the same requirements and guarantees as programs in other jurisdictions. In fact, there is still very little information available about the District Attorney’s plan. What is known is that the program intends to focus on young adult defendants between 17 and 21 who are charged with nonviolent, misdemeanor offenses. Defendants charged with DWI and family violence offenses would not qualify. While this would be a very good start,the District Attorney has still made no firm commitment to implement of this program.
Still, District Attorney Reed’s decision to focus on young adult defendants is commendable. Implementing a pretrial diversion program that focuses on young adult defendants would undoubtedly have a significant impact on the local criminal justice system. Above all, it could lay a foundation for addressing recidivism rates by focusing on the roots of criminality rather than the punishment of individuals. But while the program’s requirements remain within Susan Reed’s sole discretion, there needs to be a more transparent discussion of its details to ensure that the community remains informed about the alternatives to traditional criminal justice proceedings.
How do you feel about pretrial diversion and what would you require as conditions? If you or anyone you know is dealing with legal issues, call the Law Office of Guillermo Lara Jr.