Alternative Sentencing

Rehabilitation Programs and Residential Treatment

Almost every criminal violation, misdemeanor or felony, has the potential for county jail or state prison penalties, respectively.  However, depending on the circumstances of a case, there may be alternative forms of punishment that may be better suited to meet the needs of the client as well as the local community.

In DUI and drug possession cases, rehabilitation programs and/or residential treatment facilities not only deal with the immediate problems associated with addiction and substance abuse, but can also prevent further abuses in the future.  More often than not, prosecutors and judges want such offenders to receive appropriate and meaningful treatment rather than simply serve time in county jail, or even state prison.   In order to encourage this type of result, it is extremely important to start treatment as soon as possible.

The sooner a treatment program is started, the sooner a “track record” can be established.  An offender’s sincerity and amenability to treatment can be crucial to getting the prosecutor’s agreement that treatment can be done in lieu of jail or, even state prison.   Moreover, in certain types of drug possession cases, successful completion of a drug program can lead to a dismissal of the charges (even if the accused has prior drug convictions)!

Civil Compromise

For those who have committed criminal offenses, involving vandalism, hit & run, and certain theft cases, a civil compromise may be available to the accused.   In these types of cases, if the alleged victim is compensated for their loss(es) and otherwise agree that they do not desire further criminal prosecution of the case, a judge can order that the case be dismissed.  The extraordinary aspect of a civil compromise is that the judge’s order to dismiss can be made over the objection of the prosecutor.

Anger Management / Parenting Classes

In cases involving violence, such as assault & battery and domestic violence, the possible jail penalties may be significantly affected by early enrollment in an anger management program or domestic violence counseling.  Even though these programs may be ultimately required as a part of probation, the fact that the client has already initiated counseling may place him/her in a stronger negotiating position.  This is especially true when the client and his/her spouse (or significant other) are desirous of reconciling.  Couples counseling may also be appropriate, subject to certain conditions and circumstances.

For those charged with child endangerment or cruelty to a child, parenting classes may be an effective and appropriate alternative to spending time in custody.  Because these types of offenses are given a great deal of review and attention in the criminal justice system, a well prepared report from a licensed therapist or counselor can be very effective in placing the incident into context (lack of criminal history of the client, the manner of discipline imposed by the parent or guardian, the behavior of the child, the ability of the parent to make appropriate changes in their own behavior/discipline styles, etc).

Such a report may provide further helpful/mitigating information to the prosecutor, who may be willing to revise a jail offer.  The report should include a thoughtful and detailed treatment plan for the client.

Juvenile Cases

In many juvenile matters, there are diversion-minded programs that may result in the dismissal of charges.  One program is known as “informal supervision”.   If the minor elects to do participate, he/she must serve six-months of informal probation while performing community service, attending and receiving acceptable grades in school, providing restitution, if any to the victim, as well as completing any other terms the judge may require.  At the conclusion of the six-month term, and assuming the minor has successfully completed the terms of probation, the case will be dismissed.

In more serious cases, including certain felonies, there is another program similar to informal supervision above.  Known as “deferred entry of judgment” (DEJ), this program requires the minor to serve a full year of probation and upon the successful conclusion of probation, the case will also be dismissed.  This diversion program however, requires that the minor admit the charges in the petition (criminal complaint).  Should the minor fail in DEJ, the court can impose sentence immediately.

In the City of Santa Clarita, there are two additional diversion programs, “Teen Court” and “Community Court”.  Both are also designed to give first-time youthful offenders an opportunity to earn a dismissal of their criminal case.

Pre-Filing Meeting

A “pre-filing meeting” actually has very little to do with alternative sentencing because it is a proactive rather than reactive.  A pre-filing works this way:

Before the prosecutor even makes a decision to file criminal charges, defense counsel requests a meeting with the prosecutor to present evidence or information  that is otherwise unknown or unfamiliar to the prosecutor.  The hope is that this information (in addition to or in contrast to the police report) may shed further light upon the circumstances of the alleged offense, and thereby cause the prosecutor to refrain from filing any charges.

The evidence or information presented to the prosecutor may include, but is not limited to eyewitness statements, private investigator reports, and photographs.  In certain criminal cases, a pre-filing meeting can be very effective, especially when it prevents a client from suffering further stress and the risk associated with protracted litigation and/or trial.