Harris County: What is DIVERT?
Harris County's Direct Intervention using Voluntary Education, Restitution and Treatment program (DIVERT) is completely unique to Texas' largest county. DIVERT is a form of pre-trial diversion program invented by the Harris County District Attorney's Office to curb the number of DWI cases being brought to trial, and being lost by the District Attorney.
Prior to the introduction of the DIVERT program, a first time DWI offender had only a couple of choices when faced with a DWI charge. The defendant could plead guilty and pay a nominal fine and serve a couple of days in the county jail, which resulted in a conviction. The defendant could plead guilty and serve a yearlong probation, which also resulted in a conviction. Or the defendant could take their case to trial, where they had about a 50% chance of winning the case entirely or if they were convicted, they could choose either of the other two outcomes as their punishment.
For most defendants facing a DWI charge, the choice was easy, take the purely opinion based crime to trial, and hope you got a sympathetic jury, and 50% of the time you were not guilty! The anti-DWI groups, like MADD, had for years lobbied the Texas legislature to make DWI penalties so strict, that there was no possibility of keeping a DWI off of a person's criminal record without taking their chances at trial. DWI cases became a nightmare for the District Attorney's Office. Not only were their dockets backlogged with drunk driving cases, but they were losing them at an astonishing percentage compared to all other types of criminal cases they were trying in Harris County.
So in an effort to persuade would be DWI litigants to not take their cases to trial, the DIVERT program was born. DIVERT was design to be a carrot dangled in front of DWI defendants that would get them to VOLUNTARILY submit to all of the programs and treatment they would have gotten(and even a few extras) if they had been convicted and put on probation. DIVERT was designed to not only unclog the backlog of cases going to trial in the misdemeanor courts, it was designed to punish/ rehabilitate the thousands of people accused of driving while intoxicated in Harris County each year.
The basics of the program are as follows:
- A Defendant can have NO prior criminal history to be eligible
- A Defendant must pay $202 for a SALCE evaluation and have no high scores which would indicate low chance for rehabilitation
- If eligible for the program a Defendant must enter into a contract with the Harris County District Attorney's office to meet all conditions and stay in the program for one year.
- The Defendant must plead guilty to their case in open court and agree that if they are kicked out of the DIVERT program this admission can be used against them.
- The court will reset the Defendant's case for one year to allow completion of the program.
- The Defendant must complete all requirements of DIVERT.(I'll post a copy of the DIVERT agreement soon to show all the requirements)
- If the Defendant completes the program, their case will be dismissed by the District Attorney's Office.
- After dismissal, the Defendant can seek an expunction of their case form their criminal record after waiting for 2 years.
So now DWI defendants actually have a real choice to make if they are eligible for DIVERT, and the facts of their case make the likelihood of success in trial very low. In the past, it did not matter for us as lawyers that the facts were bad because we did not have a way to keep it off their record anyway, so we tried DWI cases in bunches. But now, we have to advise our clients of the DIVERT option, and allow them to make the choice of the possibility of dismissal if they can stay with the program, or taking a chance on trial.
Today,I still approach every DWI case as though it will be going to trial. I check out every piece of evidence, watch every tape, and read every report. I want to try and get my client's case dismissed at every step of the process, and if I cannot accomplish that, I want to be ready to go to trial. Along the way, I have had several clients decide they did not want to take the gamble on a trial, and that they wanted to take their chances on DIVERT. I have had several clients successfully complete the program, and every one of them has complained about how onerous the requirements and the fees/ costs are on them.
If you are facing a DWI case in the Houston area, and need an experienced Harris County DWI lawyer, call or email me today.