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.