Our April, 2016 post provided an overview of Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's proposed pre-arrest diversion program for adults who commit low level offenses. The program was proposed, at least in part, as an alternative to the civil citation programs for marijuana possession that were being initiated throughout other parts of the Tampa Bay area, and throughout the state of Florida. The program was to modeled after the juvenile diversion programs already put into effect by various law enforcement agencies, including the St. Petersburg Police Department.
I told you I would keep you updated as things progressed. Well, here we are. In a Tampa Bay Times article published just last week, it was revealed that Pinellas County will launch one of the most ambitious criminal justice reforms in Tampa Bay. Under the new "APAD" (Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion) program, adult offenders who commit low level crimes, including underage possession of alcohol, petty theft, possession of marijuana-related paraphernalia, criminal mischief, and non-domestic related assault and battery charges will have an opportunity to avoid arrest and prosecution if certain conditions precedent are met. Offenders charged with possession of marijuana will also qualify where the amount is up to 10 grams, or up to 20 grams if the arresting officer can determine that the contraband was not intended for sale. According to the article, the program will prevent people who commit a range of petty offenses from having a criminal record, which can adversely affect future employment opportunities and can make finding a place to live more difficult.
On Thursday of last week, St. Petersburg (Pinellas County's largest city) joined the program. City council voted to support the program after being briefed on the details by Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who is leading the effort to have the program implemented. Apparently, St. Petersburg was the last municipality in the county to join in the effort. That all agencies and municipalities are in agreement is important so that the all qualifying members of the community have fair and equal access to it.
Since our April, 2016 post, more details have surfaced regarding the nature of the program. According to the August 11th Tampa Bay Times article, the program could start as soon as October of this year. Offenders who do not have a prior misdemeanor conviction within the last two years, or a felony conviction within the last five years, will qualify. Hopefully, the term "conviction" will be narrowly construed so that people with withholds of adjudication within the relevant look back periods will not be disqualified from participation. Moreover, offenders will be able to participate in adult pre-arrest diversion up to three times.
Offenders who meet APAD criteria will be given 48 hours to report to the program's office, which will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the person does not show up for his or her report date, then charges will be forwarded to the Pinellas County State Attorney's Office for prosecution. According to the article, the intake process will include a basic risk assessment to determine whether the offender is in need of additional services, such as anger management or other forms of counseling. As part of the program, participants can be expect to be required to perform community service hours and, where applicable, pay restitution (in, for example, theft and criminal mischief cases).
As a St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney, I am well aware of the many advantages a diversion program offers to a first time offender. Having your criminal charges dismissed, avoiding associated collateral consequences such as the loss of a driver's license (or even deportation in some instances) and being in a position to seal or expunge the arrest record is invaluable to a criminal defendant. Pinellas County's new APAD program appears to offer all of the same benefits, but with the added benefit of no arrest record. In lieu of being taken into custody, posting bond, and perhaps having a "mug shot" published all over the Internet, the person receives a notice to appear for intake. It doesn't get much more discreet than that. Also, it appears that individuals will be able to take advantage of the program up to three times. In most instances, a person is afforded only one opportunity at a diversion program. That people can now have up to three low level offenses diverted from prosecution is nothing short of amazing.
This is obviously a more comprehensive initiative than the civil citation program for misdemeanor marijuana cases, with greater benefits for a larger number of people. While it is sure to have its intended effect of decreasing jail bookings and alleviating some of the burden on our court system, the benefits to the accused person cannot be understated here. As always, I will keep you posted as this develops.