Getting convicted of a crime can negatively impact all aspects of your life. This is true whether you get convicted of a misdemeanor or felony, and whether you are a juvenile or adult.
As a result, when facing criminal charges in North Charleston, it is important to protect yourself by all means available. While this will mean negotiating a plea deal or going to trial in some cases, in others it will mean entering into one of South Carolina’s diversion programs.
What Is a Diversion Program in South Carolina’s Criminal Justice System?
When you get charged with a crime in North Charleston, you receive a court date, and your case is set for trial. Unless you are able to negotiate a plea deal or get your charge dismissed, you will need to fight for your freedom in court. But, there is an alternative available in some cases. This alternative involves entering into a diversion program.
If you are eligible, entering into a diversion program allows you to avoid a conviction without going to trial. Your case is “diverted” from the court system; and, if you complete the program successfully, your case will end without a trial or conviction. These programs are designed to help people who have made mistakes—and, if you are eligible, you can enroll even if there is no question that you have committed a criminal or juvenile offense.
What Are South Carolina’s Diversion Programs?
South Carolina has five main diversion programs for criminal and juvenile offenders. If you believe you may be eligible for any of the following (or if you need help determining your eligibility), you should speak with a defense lawyer in North Charleston promptly:
Alcohol Education Program (AEP)
The Alcohol Education Program (AEP) is an option for individuals between the ages of 17 and 20 who are facing certain alcohol-related charges as first-time offenders. Eligible charges in Charleston County include (but are not limited to):
- Minor in possession of alcohol, beer, wine, or liquor
- Open container violations
- Public disorderly conduct or littering (alcohol-related only)
- Possession of a fake ID
To successfully complete the AEP, eligible individuals must:
- Submit to random drug testing
- Complete all assigned education courses
- Complete the assigned driving program
- Perform community service
Individuals who are enrolled in the AEP must also avoid getting arrested while their alcohol-related charge remains pending. In Charleston County, the total cost for the program is approximately $250. To enter into the AEP, you must appear at your scheduled court date, and you must either request to enter the program while in court or within 10 days.
In Charleston County, there are separate drug court programs for adult and juvenile offenders. Generally, drug court is an option for individuals who are facing first-time charges for possession and other relatively minor drug-related offenses. Enrolling in drug court requires participation in drug testing and treatment sessions, and participants must meet various other requirements as well. Similar to the AEP, participants must also avoid getting arrested again while enrolled in drug court.
Crucially, enrolling in drug court is not without risks. As the Charleston County Courts explain, in order to enroll in drug court, “[you] must plead guilty upfront to your current charges and accept the negotiated sentence that will be imposed if terminated from drug court.” As a result, before enrolling, you need to make sure you are confident in your ability to complete the program successfully. An experienced North Charleston defense lawyer can help you make an informed decision.
Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI)
Pre-trial intervention (PTI) is a diversion program that is available to defendants age 18 and older who have been charged with certain lower level criminal offenses. To be eligible, you must not have any “significant criminal arrests or convictions” on your record. A North Charleston defense lawyer can help you determine if you are eligible; and, if so, your lawyer can represent you in seeking PTI in court.
Once you request PTI in court, you should receive a Notice of Application in the mail within 14 days. This gives you the ability to apply in person or online. While specific requirements vary depending on the crime involved, typical PTI requirements include:
- Payment of application and participation fees (totaling $350)
- Attending counseling
- Submitting to random drug testing
- Completing community service
- Paying restitution
- Attending a prison tour
Like AEP and drug court, getting arrested while enrolled in PTI can result in immediate disqualification. If this happens, your original criminal case will go back to court, and you will have to defend against your new criminal charge as well.
Traffic Education Program (TEP)
As the Solicitor’s Office explains, Charleston County’s Traffic Education Program (TEP), “provides the opportunity to have eligible tickets dismissed by the court and maintain good driving records.” To be eligible, you must have less than five points on your driving record, and your ticket must carry no more than four points.
Participation in the TEP involves paying a $280 fee, completing four hours of defensive driving education and four hours of community service, and avoiding any new traffic citations for six months.
Juvenile Arbitration Program
Many first-time juvenile offenders are eligible to participate in Charleston County’s Juvenile Arbitration Program. An individual who completes the program, “can truthfully say that he/she has never been convicted of a crime.”
Similar to the other diversion programs discussed above, completing the Juvenile Arbitration Program involves meeting several requirements. The specific requirements are determined case-by-case during the arbitration process, but typically include some combination of counseling, education, restitution, and community service.
Discuss Your Options with North Charleston Defense Lawyer Rad S. Deaton
If you have questions about enrolling in one of South Carolina’s diversion programs, we encourage you to contact us promptly for more information. North Charleston defense lawyer Rad S. Deaton can help you understand your options and choose the best path forward. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, call us at 843-225-5723 or request an appointment online now.