The idea that the justice system should aim to rehabilitate people who have committed criminal offenses instead of simply punishing them is not new, but in recent years, it has seen more and more applications in criminal cases related to the misuse of alcohol and drugs. Some states have drug courts, where people who have been charged with drug-related crimes can undergo addiction treatment and, if they complete the treatment successfully, can avoid a criminal conviction, even if there is no question that, at the time of their arrest, they were in possession of illegal drugs. Along those same lines, Texas DWI courts offer a pretrial diversion program called DIVERT; it is available for people facing first offense DWI charges.
Rationale for the DIVERT Program
DIVERT stands for Direct Intervention using Voluntary Education, Restitution, and Treatment. It allows first-time DWI offenders to avoid a formal conviction if they agree to complete a court-ordered court of community service, probation, or treatment for substance abuse. The program, which began in 2009, was spearheaded was Pat Lykos, the former Harris County District Attorney. The program is only available for first-time DWI offenders who do not otherwise have a criminal record.
The impetus for the DIVERT program came from the fact that many first-time DWI offenders are young people who have never otherwise broken the law; most of them are 25 years old or younger. Before the program started, nearly two thirds of defendants facing first-time DWI charges did not accept offers of probation or court-ordered alcohol abuse treatment when these were offered to them in exchange for a guilty plea. Instead, they pleaded innocent, were found guilty, and received harsher punishments. DIVERT is a pretrial intervention program with the aim of helping people who did not have a criminal record before the DWI charges keep their records clean.
If defendants successfully complete the treatment, community service, or probation ordered by the DWI court judge, then the DWI charge goes away. If they do not comply with the terms of what the judge orders, then they get an automatic conviction.
Criticism of the DIVERT Program
When the DIVERT program began, it was met with criticism, especially by defense lawyers. The problem with the DIVERT program, according to its critics, is that it requires defendants to give up some of their constitutional rights in order to enjoy the benefits of the program. They claim that it pressures defendants into pleading guilty by threatening them with a harsh punishment if they plead innocent but then are found guilty. Critics of the DIVERT program also say that, rather than pretrial intervention, it is actually a form of adjudication, which, according to Texas law, is not legal for DWI cases.
Contact Madrid Law About DWI First Offenses
Being charged with DWI, especially when you have never been charged with a crime before, can be frightening, but remember that you as a defendant, have rights, including the right to legal representation. Contact Madrid Law in Houston for a consultation about your DWI case.