After a criminal defendant enters a guilty plea or is found guilty by a judge or jury, they will be sentenced for the crime. This is when the defendant will receive a punishment. Criminal punishments include jail or prison time, probation and fines. However, depending on the type of crime and jurisdiction the case is tried in, a defendant can avoid criminal sentencing by being placed in an early intervention program.

Early intervention will happen very early on in the defendant’s criminal case. This provides the defendant with an option to avoid normal sentencing measures (such as jail time) and ultimately get the criminal charges dropped against them after finishing the diversionary program.

A defendant generally cannot directly request to be placed in a diversion program. This request is typically made by the defendant’s lawyer or prosecutor, and ultimately needs to be approved by the prosecutor.

Sometimes a judge may also put the option of early intervention on the table or require approval. If early intervention is available, then it is wise for the defendant to accept it so they can work towards putting the crime in the past.

The diversion programs available depends on the needs of the defendant. The program can last anywhere from several months to a few years. Common conditions of these programs include the defendant successfully completing:

  • Mandatory community service;
  • Substance abuse treatment and counseling;
  • Mandatory education courses; or
  • Paying restitution to victims of their crimes.
    • Common examples include money, returning stolen property, or fixing damaged property.

What Makes a Person Eligible for Early Intervention?

Early intervention programs are generally only available for lesser offenses where the defendant does not have a criminal history. This is because the main goal of early intervention is to provide rehabilitation to the defendant.

However, specific eligibility requirements will depend on your local jurisdiction’s rules, so you should check with a criminal attorney if you have been charged with a crime and think that early intervention instead of sentencing is a possibility.

Generally, one of the following factors will need to be present in order for a defendant to qualify for early intervention:

  • The criminal act was a misdemeanor, such as a lesser drug or domestic offense;
  • The defendant was a first-time offender with no criminal history; or
  • The defendant did not previously participate in an early intervention program for a different crime.

Regardless, keep in mind that the jurisdiction where your case is being heard must have an established early intervention diversion program in order for this option to even be on the table. Additionally, even if the requirements are met the prosecutor or judge may still have the discretion to determine whether or not the defendant will be placed in the program. Sometimes victim consent is also needed for a defendant to be eligible.

What Types of Early Intervention Programs Exist?

There are generally two main types of early intervention programs: pretrial diversion and deferred adjudication. Both pretrial diversion and deferred adjudication will be offered prior to the defendant’s criminal trial begins. The difference between the two is that with deferred adjudication, the defendant will have already entered a guilty plea.

The main features of both pretrial diversion and deferred adjudication are:

  • After the early intervention program is offered, the defendant’s case will not go any further, and will essentially be placed on pause;
  • The defendant will be provided with certain conditions that they need to meet to successfully complete the program;
  • For deferred adjudication, the judge will not enter the guilty plea to allow the early intervention program to proceed; and
  • The defendant’s charges will be dismissed after completion of the program’s conditions.

In the case of a pretrial diversion, if the program is not completed the case will proceed to trial. However, for deferred adjudication, the guilty plea will be entered and the defendant will proceed to the sentencing phase to receive the judge’s punishment.

Should I Hire an Attorney to Discuss Eligibility for an Early Intervention Program?

After you are charged with a crime, you should hire a criminal attorney to assist you with your defense. In regards to early intervention, having an attorney can help with your chances of getting into an early intervention program. An attorney will know about what early intervention programs are available in your area and what the requirements are to qualify for them.

If you qualify for an early intervention program, an attorney can request that you get into one of these programs and help you ensure that you complete all the requirements of the program. If the prosecutor argues against this request, your criminal defense attorney can present reasons to the judge on your behalf as to why you are a good candidate for the program. If the court allows you to enter in to a program, after it is successfully completed, your attorney can request dismissal of your charges.