In South Carolina, having a criminal conviction on your record can impact many different aspects of your life. Even once you have served your sentence, your conviction could make it more difficult to find housing or get a loan, and you will likely find that you are passed over for many jobs for which you are otherwise qualified.
As a result, if you are facing a criminal charge, you need to do everything you possibly can to avoid a conviction. While this might mean fighting your charge in court, it could also mean entering into one of South Carolina’s diversion programs.
What is a Diversion Program?
A diversion program is an option that is available to criminal defendants in South Carolina who have been charged with certain types of crimes and traffic offenses. When you are enrolled in the program, you will be subject to terms that are similar to the terms of probation. However, if you complete the program successfully, then you will be eligible to have your charge dismissed without the need to go to trial.
Entering into a Diversion Program is a way to ensure that your record remains clean of any convictions—as long as you are prepared to comply with the terms and conditions of the program.
What Diversion Programs are Available to Criminal Defendants in South Carolina?
The State of South Carolina has established four diversion programs that are available to qualifying adult offenders. There is also a Juvenile Arbitration program for minors who have been charged with juvenile offenses.
Alcohol Education Program (AEP)
The Alcohol Education Program (AEP) is a diversion program that is available to individuals between the ages of 17 and 20 who are facing alcohol-related charges as a first-time offender. As explained by the City of Rock Hill:
“The purpose of AEP is to discourage underage drinking and to educate eligible participants as to the potential personal, social and legal risks of alcohol use. You must . . . have no significant prior criminal history, and have been charged with Minor in Possession of Alcohol, Open Container and/or Possession of False Identification. Offenders are only eligible to participate in AEP one time. After completion of the program, [you] may pay a fee for an Expungement Order which will clear [your] record . . . .”
If you enroll in the AEP, you are given 60 days to complete a series of requirements. These requirements include (but may not be limited to): (i) eight hours of counseling, (ii) twenty hours of community service, and (iii) assigned homework. The total fees for the program are approximately $600.
Drug Court is a diversion program that is available to individuals who have been charged with certain drug and alcohol-related offenses. As summarized by the Solicitor’s Office for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit (which encompasses York County), “Drug Court is an opportunity for nonviolent criminal offenders, who are dependent on alcohol/other drugs, to receive addiction treatment and rehabilitative services to address dissocial/criminal behavior instead of incarceration.”
The Drug Court program requires participation for a minimum of 18 months; and, in order to enroll, you must receive a referral. This referral can come from your criminal defense attorney. You must also be 17 years of age or older, have a clean criminal record, and have access to reliable transportation. While enrolled, you will be required to stay off of alcohol and drugs, attend education courses and counseling, and meet various other daily requirements.
Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI)
Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) is a diversion program that is available to first-time non-violent offenders in South Carolina. Entering the PTI program, “allows the defendant to be diverted from court and enter into a program consisting of counseling, education, community service work, restitution, drug testing, and prison tours.” If you successfully complete your PTI, you can apply for expungement, and at the end of the process your record will be wiped clean.
Participating in a PTI program is an intensive process, and you will need to make sure you have a clear understanding of everything you are required to do (and not do). If you fail to meet any of the program’s requirements, your case can be put back on track for trial, and you will not be eligible to re-enter the program.
Traffic Education Program (TEP)
The Traffic Education Program (TEP) is a diversion program that is available in cases involving traffic tickets that carry four points or less (for all charges combined). In order to enter the program, you must not have a “significant” driving record, and you must not have participated in the program previously. Once you enter the program, you will have 120 days to complete four hours of defensive driving training, complete four hours of community service, pay the required fees, and meet certain other requirements.
The Juvenile Arbitration program affords minors who have been charged with juvenile offenses the opportunity to close their cases without going to court. Similar to PTI, it is available to first-time non-violent offenders. As the Solicitor’s Office for the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit explains:
“At the [arbitration] hearing, the juvenile comes face to face with the victim, arresting officer, and his/her parents. Once the juvenile is willing to admit his or her guilt to the crime, a process of sanctioning begins. Sanctions are tasks that are placed upon the juvenile by the volunteer arbitrator with the assistance of the victim, officer, and the juvenile’s parents.”
Once sanctions have been imposed, the juvenile has 90 days to complete them. Similar to the other diversion programs discussed above, successful completion leads to dismissal, while failure to adhere to the terms of the program results in the juvenile’s case going to court.
Discuss Your Options with a Rock Hill, SC Criminal Defense Lawyer in Confidence
Are you eligible to avoid a conviction by participating in one of South Carolina’s diversion programs? If so, is this your best option? To find out, schedule a confidential consultation at The Law Offices of Michael L. Brown, Jr.Call 803-328-8822 or tell us how we can reach you online now.