California’s Assembly Bill 3234 took effect on January 1, 2021. It has dramatically expanded opportunities for diversion in most first-time misdemeanor cases, including DUIs, vehicular manslaughter, elder abuse, child abuse, assault, hate crimes, possession of a firearm in a school zone, criminal threats, and dissuading a witness. AB 3234 has the added benefit of easing overcrowding in California prisons during the continued spread of COVID-19.
Previously, diversion opportunities were only available in specific types of cases, such as those involving drug addiction or mental health issues. Other defendants were ineligible due to prior arrests.
Now, AB 3234 has opened up second chances to far more offenders who do not pose a risk to public safety, and allows them to have their cases dismissed and erased upon successful completion of a diversion program. Lawmakers who favored the bill believe it offers a critical step toward further criminal justice reform.
Defendants cannot be offered diversion programs for crimes such as domestic battery (or corporal injury to a spouse), stalking, and sex crimes that require registration under California Penal Code 290 (sexual battery, indecent exposure, rape, etc.).
AB 3234 gives judges the discretion to impose diversion in almost all misdemeanor cases, even over the objection of the prosecution. If the judge deems diversion appropriate and if the defendant accepts the offer, then the case will be left open for a period of up to 24 months. During that time, the defendant must comply with the terms and conditions of their diversion program, which might include community service, drug treatment, anger management, or something tailored specifically to the defendant.
Additionally, the defendant must pay full restitution to any victims who suffered a loss from their crime (in accordance with their financial ability) and comply with any protective orders that may have been issued in the case.
Defendants have the opportunity to have their case dismissed completely, meaning there will be no record of their conviction or even of their arrest. It will be as if it never occurred. When they apply for jobs, housing, or certification, they won’t have their options greatly diminished due to a criminal record.
The defendant is also not required to plead guilty in advance, as other programs often require. This lack of a guilty plea preserves their right to litigate their case in a jury trial if it becomes necessary down the road. For immigrants, a guilty plea is often treated as a conviction, even when later withdrawn through a diversion program, so AB 3234 can be very helpful to those who might otherwise have faced deportation.
Finally, first-time offenders charged with low-level crimes who successfully complete a diversion program are statistically less likely to be charged with additional future crimes and be sent to prison compared to their peers who were prosecuted.
As diversion program opportunities are left to the discretion of the judge, it’s critical that defendants present themselves in the best light. They must make an effective and persuasive petition that highlights the positive aspects of their background and their character. The assistance of a California AB 3234 lawyer can, therefore, significantly maximize a defendant’s likelihood of securing a successful outcome.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a misdemeanor offense in California, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you present your case and increase your chances for the most positive outcome possible. Criminal defense attorney Edward R. Flores has over 30 years of experience working with judges here in Orange, California, and can be your guide for misdemeanor diversion laws in CA.
At the Flores Law Group, A Professional Corporation, we’ll work with you to tailor a persuasive petition based on your unique circumstances and background. Contact the Flores Law Group, A Professional Corporation to learn more about your eligibility for AB 3234 today.