AB 3234 – California’s Misdemeanor Diversion Program

On September 30, 2020, Governor Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 3234, which was codified as Penal Code §§1001.95-1001.97, and became effective on January 1, 2021. AB 3234 is a product of the continuing criminal justice reforms in California. The Court Initiated Misdemeanor Diversion is essentially a “get out of jail free card” as it provides an alternative to criminal prosecution and aims at preventing the creation of repeated offenders by keeping non-violent offenders out of jail by giving individuals a second chance and a clean slate.

In essence, AB 3234 gives judges the power to grant a diversion to a defendant in a misdemeanor case and to postpone the case for up to 24 months. Importantly, under this law, a judge has the power to “divert” a case, even if the prosecuting attorney objects. The offer of a diversion is entirely within a judge’s discretion, which means that the defendant has to show good reasons for why he or she is worthy of being granted a diversion. In considering whether to grant judicial diversion, judges would take into account defendant’s history, character, background, and the specific facts of the case and every diversion will be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case and the crime charged.

A defendant would be deemed to have successfully completed the judicial diversion program when they complete all court-ordered terms, conditions, and programs, which can include community services, treatment programs, anger management or domestic violence classes among others. In addition, during the duration of the program a defendant has to comply with any court-ordered protective or stay-away orders, or orders prohibiting firearm possession. Finally, a defendant has to make full restitution to the victim. However, the law specifically states that a defendant’s inability to pay restitution due to indigence cannot be grounds for denial of diversion or a finding of failure to comply with the terms of the diversion.

Upon successful completion of a diversion program, the court is obligated to dismiss the case against the defendant. Not only would the case be dismissed, but also the arrest upon which the diversion was ordered will be deemed to have never occurred. In practice, what that means is that following a dismissal, in response to any question about an individual’s criminal history, a defendant can legally say that they have never been arrested. The only exception is, that if a defendant applies for employment as a peace officer, the Department of Justice can still access the arrest information, and if asked directly, a defendant has to answer that he or she has been arrested.

It is worth noting that AB 3234 specifically disqualifies certain offenses from eligibility under this diversion program, including registrable sex offenses, domestic violence offenses, and stalking offenses. Moreover, although the new law is silent on DUI misdemeanors, DUI crimes are nevertheless specifically excluded from any diversion-type programs pursuant to other laws.

Even with the above listed exceptions, the judicial diversion program does cover an extensive list of misdemeanor criminal offences. Some of the most common crimes that are eligible under the program include simple assault, simple battery, petty theft, vandalism, possession of drug paraphernalia, public intoxication, disturbing the peace, possession of a controlled substance, trespass, and much more.

A criminal record can and does have a long-term effect on an individual’s life, and a criminal conviction can lead to very harsh consequences including the retaining of or obtaining employment, a professional license, or certain benefits, and for non-citizens, it can have a devastating impact on their immigration status.

The Misdemeanor Diversion Program gives defendants a chance to have their misdemeanor cases dismissed and to avoid all the negative consequences of an arrest or conviction. At the Justice Firm, we understand the value of a solid attorney-client relationship, and are ready to work with you to achieve the best outcome possible.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and would like to know more about the judicial diversion program or any other matter, our highly skilled and reliable attorneys are here to help and answer any questions you might have. Our criminal defense attorneys have decades of experience representing individuals in all misdemeanor and felony cases and you can contact them today for a case evaluation locally at (310) 914-2444 or at our Toll-Free number at (866) 695-6714, or click here.


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