If you are charged with a first-time misdemeanor offense, you may be eligible for Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs. These programs can provide an alternative to jail time and the criminal record that comes with it. Here’s what you should know.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be legal advice. You can contact the Arizona Legal Center today to learn more about your rights in your situation. Note that when you first contact the Arizona Legal Center, a law student (and not a practicing attorney) will handle your intake.
What is a misdemeanor diversion program?
A misdemeanor offense can include things like shoplifting items under a certain value or substance possession charges. Arizona has three classes of misdemeanors with maximum sentences someone can get for each one (as per ARS § 13-707):
- Class 1 misdemeanor: Six months and a fine of up to $2,500
- Class 2 misdemeanor: Four months and a fine of up to $750
- Class 3 misdemeanor: 30 days and a fine of up to $300
These are sentencing guidelines for first-time offense misdemeanors. If you are sentenced with a class 3 misdemeanor, even 30 days in jail can completely change your life. You may lose your housing and your job.
Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs may be able to help you avoid these consequences. Put simply, first-time offenders can choose to participate in a diversion program to avoid jail time and a criminal record.
The goals of Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs
The main purpose of Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs is to help a first-time offender understand the consequences of their actions. This helps them learn how to make better choices while making amends to their victims.
As for the overall goals of a diversion program, former Maricopa County Attorney General Bill Montgomery explains that the focus is on eliminating repeat offenders. This helps not only the offenders but also the greater public.
What types of diversion programs are available in Arizona?
Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs are different depending on where you live in the state. Depending on the misdemeanor and area of the state, judges offer diversion programs that may include the following focus:
- Substance abuse services
- Life skills
The city of Phoenix, for example, offers diversion programs for anger management, mental health issues, and prostitution (among others). Tucson has diversion programs that include all of the above, plus others for animal code violations. Each of these programs focuses on the root causes of the misdemeanor and helps the defendant understand how to move forward.
It’s not possible to list all of the diversion programs that may be available in Arizona, as different cities offer different programs. In some areas, there are no formal diversion programs available for certain misdemeanors. It is important to work with a qualified attorney to find options available to you, if possible.
Am I eligible for an Arizona misdemeanor program?
Eligibility for Arizona diversion programs varies by county and city. In Tucson, for example, you are generally eligible to participate in an Arizona diversion program if you meet the following guidelines:
- You are over 15
- This is a first offense misdemeanor
- No weapons were involved
- Only minor injuries occurred as a result of the crime
On the other hand, some counties in Arizona will not allow defendants to participate in a diversion program if they committed a hate crime or if the crime was a domestic dispute.
Note also that the prosecutor has the final say on whether or not to accept your request for a diversion program.
How do Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs work?
The process may vary depending on your location and your situation, but here are the general steps in a diversion program.
Enroll in a diversion program
Generally, when you are facing a first offense misdemeanor, you will be required to appear in court to review the charges against you. During a pre-trial conference, though, your attorney can negotiate a plea agreement. This delays a trial and can include enrolling you in one of Arizona’s misdemeanor diversion programs, if one is available to you.
In some cases, you may be able to enter into a diversion program before your scheduled court date.
Complete the terms of the program
If there is a victim of the crime, you may need to make restitution. In addition to restitution, most diversion programs require participants to pay a court fee. There may be other additional requirements.
You must complete all terms of the diversion program in the time specified. If you do not, or you fail to pay your fees or make restitution, then you will go to trial.
Get your charges dropped
Once you complete the diversion program, the prosecutor’s office will file a request with the court to drop all charges. This can help you avoid a criminal record.
The length of time it takes to complete an Arizona diversion program varies depending on the offense and the program itself. For first time offenses that involve multiple misdemeanors (e.g., shoplifting and under-age drinking, for example), defendants generally face a longer diversion program.
How can I get help with Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs?
The Arizona Legal Center is a free legal aid organization that can offer some assistance with Arizona misdemeanor diversion programs.
While your best option is to work closely with your defense attorney for your particular situation, we can help you make sense of diversion programs that might be available in your area.
Get in touch today to see how we can help.
Disclaimer: The Arizona Legal Center provides free legal aid and consultations in Arizona only. We provide low-cost access to fee-for-service cases when determined appropriate by an attorney at the Center, but generally do not undertake full-scope representation.