Breaking the Cycle of Low Level Crime

Posted: March 01, 2018

Over the last few years, the criminal justice system has gone through drastic changes.  In order to adapt to these changes, District Attorney's Offices throughout California are seeking new and different ways to deal with low level offenders so that they can better focus energy and resources on the more serious violent and sexual offenders.

The El Dorado County District Attorney's Office operates three programs designed to divert low lever adult misdemeanor offenders from the criminal justice system.  One of the diversion programs, the Suspended Driver's License Program (SDLP), grew out of our deputy district attorneys' courtroom experience involving people charged with driving on a suspended license.  We would repeatedly see that defendants were being "promised" by the court that they could obtain a dismissal or reduction of their charge if they got a valid driver's license.  However, the deputy DAs noticed that even after the defendant made several more court appearances they would often still not have a license.  It was clear that a vast majority of these people had no guidance on how to navigate the DMV and judicial bureaucracy in order to obtain a valid license.  Even worse, some offenders would get such high court fines, that when they could not pay them, their license would get suspended again for failure to pay traffic fines - a cycle which could lead a person to be in and out of court again and again for driving on a suspended license.

The costs savings to the over-burdened criminal justice system are significant.  Not only do we save judicial resources from having to repeatedly deal with a defendant in court, but we spare having to have a public defender appointed to most of these potential defendants as well as reducing the inevitable time of the deputy district attorneys repeatedly appearing on these cases.  Further, there is cost savings to persons accused of these low level crimes, who can often avoid having to hire an attorney, save upwards of $2,000 on court fines and fees, and hopefully avoid coming back to court again and again.

The El Dorado County District Attorney's Office has three diversion programs:

       The programs have the following common requirements: First, a deputy district attorney reviews the case to determine whether there are legally sufficient facts and evidence to charge a crime; second, the behavior must be minor and non-violent in nature; and lastly, the offender must have a minimal or no criminal history. The three programs are Delayed Entry of Judgment (DEJ), Suspended Driver's License (SDLP), and Minor in Possession - Alcohol (MIPP).  All three programs are designed to be completed in 90-120 days. The District Attorney's Office has partnered with Pacific Educational Services for these programs.

      SDLP was designed to divert out of the criminal justice system unlicensed drivers or drivers who lost their license because of failure to appear in court or pay traffic fines.  This is a pre-filing program.  If the person chooses to reject the program or fails to complete the program, charges are filed and forwarded to the court.  SDLP people take an educational class that covers the laws and, more importantly, the path to obtaining a valid driver's license. The person is taught how to navigate the judicial and DMV process.  Since the inception of this SDLP program 1915 people enrolled and 1716 successfully completed.  

       DEJ is a post-filing program that is offered after a person makes their first appearance in court.  If the judge approves the DEJ offer, the person is "sentenced" to an appropriate education class, community service hours, and often other terms such as paying restitution to the victim.  When the person successfully completes the program, the charges are dismissed and the person can have the charges removed from their record.  Since 2010, 511 people enrolled in this program and 447 successfully completed the program.

       MIPP started in 2017 and was patterned after SDLP. This program involves under 21 adults who have been charged with the possession of alcohol.  It is also a pre-filing program.  If the person chooses to participate in the program and completes the educational class, then charges are not filed.  If the person chooses not to participate or fails to complete the program, then charges are filed in court.  In 2017, 112 people enrolled in MIPP and 108 successfully completed the program.

The El Dorado County District Attorney's Office offers these diversion programs in order to give offenders an opportunity break the cycle of these low level crimes while still imposing  accountability at a much lower cost that benefit both the person and the community.