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Expertise 2020
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New Diversion Program for Orange County

New Diversion Program for Orange CountyI went to public schools through the eighth grade, but for high school, my parents sent me kicking and screaming to an all-boys Jesuit (Catholic) High School. I grew to love the place, but leaving my old friends was tough (I’m pretty sure that’s what my parents had in mind. It worked, by the way).

So, one cool thing about going to a school run by priests and nuns is that you get to know a few priests and nuns. They’re interesting people.

This one particular nun really enjoy teaching testosterone-filled young men (redundant, as I suppose all high schools are chuck full ‘o hormones). Prior to arriving at my school, she had been locked away in a monastery for the last decade. No communication with the outside world. No newspaper. No phone. No television. no radio. No nothing, other than the other nuns, of course.

The sequestered way of life seemed insane to me because in my youth, I was so wrapped up in the news cycle and current events that I couldn’t imagine spending a decade without the news. News is “important,” right?

I asked her once, “what if something important happened, how would you know?”

She said that “if anything important happened, someone in the town would walk up the hill, knock on the door, and explain what was going on. And, that never happened.”

Basically, this nun survived a decade without one bit of news. Not one TV show. Nothing. How could she NOT know “what’s going on?”

Well, I now understand where this nun was coming from because I also no longer watch the news (as best I’m able). It’s taken me over 30 years to get there, but I’ve arrived. No, I’m not being some smug elitist that “only reads books”, I’m just saying that for me personally, the news cycle is not uplifting. I’m happier without it.

Now for the hypocrisy, of sorts. It brings me great joy to bring you some happy news.

Congratulations to the State Attorney’s Office in Orange and Osceola County. They are rolling out new diversion programs that start in August. The new programs only address drug charges, and they’re a substantial improvement over the previous diversion program.

First, it might be helpful to mention what, exactly, a diversion program is. So, if you have a fairly clean criminal background, a diversion program completely dismisses all charges once the program requirements are completed.

For the most part, the new diversion program is far easier than previous programs. Also, the new diversion is now available for folks accused of felony possession of cannabis with intent to distribute. For the entire 26 years of my practice, no State Attorney’s Office has been willing to extend a diversion offer to anyone charged “with intent to sell or deliver.” So, that’s good news.

The new diversion program is split into three levels.

MISDEMEANOR DRUG DIVERSION: Level 1 is described as offering “minimal punishment and provides education for individuals who committed the offenses of misdemeanor possession of cannabis and/or drug paraphernalia.”

What does the program require? Level One requires completion of a one-hour cannabis education class. That’s it! Once this class is completed, case dismissed. Basically, folks will be asked to watch a video on the hazards of drugs, and this video is on the State Attorney’s website and once you’re finished watching the video, your case is dismissed.

This is a major improvement over the old diversion. The old diversion program required 6 to 12 months of supervision via the probation office, plus 25 hours community service, and random drug testing. This new Level One is shorter, easier, awesome.

FELONY DRUG DIVERSION: Level 2 diversion covers simple possession charges, including felony possession of cocaine, heroin, cannabis over 20 grams, and possession of cannabis with intent to sell or deliver. The program requires the completion of at least four hours of substance abuse education (can be an online class), a two hour face to face substance abuse education program, and 4 hours of community service. And, this must be completed before the first scheduled pretrial conference. Finally, the defendant must stay out of trouble for six months. If re-arrested within six months, the case will be escalated to a Level Three diversion.

LEVEL THREE DIVERSION covers the same drug cases listed above, but this level applies to folks with a drug addiction that requires treatment. The requirements of Level Three will involve one of two things, either Drug Court, or individualized treatment terms (for example, sometimes a client has insurance that will pay for a drug treatment program, etc.). But, if you fail to complete Level Three, you’re out of options and you’ll be sent back to court and prosecuted. Basically, this program is the same exact program as currently offered by drug court. No changes here.

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