The lawyers in our office are often asked by clients “Am I eligible to participate in a diversion program for my DUI?” In the alternative, they may ask, “Can I apply to participate in the Pinellas County PTI Program for my DUI?” or “Can I be included in the D.R.O.P. program?” These are reasonable questions to ask an attorney, since many people facing a criminal charge can often take advantage of a post arrest diversion program designed to give offenders a way to avoid a conviction.
What is a Diversion Program?
In general, a diversion program is a contractual written agreement between the Defendant, his or her attorney, and the prosecutor. Once drafted, it is thereafter approved by the judge. The Defendant agrees to perform certain tasks while the court proceedings are “stayed,” “continued,” or “put on hold.” In exchange, the State Attorney agrees to provide some form of relief to the accused. In most diversion programs, the Defendant will receive a dismissal of the charges that he was facing. In other programs, the Defendant can avoid a formal conviction by receiving a “Withholding of Adjudication.”
What Types of Diversion Programs are Offered in Pinellas County?
Pinellas County offers a diversion program to help rapidly resolve first-time DUI offenses. This is called the DUI Rehabilitation of Offenders Program (D.R.O.P.). Upon successful completion of these conditions, your criminal DUI case will be reduced to a plea of guilty to Reckless Driving, Fl. Stat. 316.192(5), and you will be sentenced to probation with conditions based on a specific Tier Level assigned. Ultimately, this program will help first-time offenders avoid jail time and the psychosocial penalties of being charged with a DUI. To be eligible for this program, you will be required to perform three pre-conditions: completion of 20 community service hours; completion of DUI School; and completion of the M.A.D.D. Victim Impact Panel. Each case is evaluated on an individual basis; you may not be eligible for D.R.O.P. if blood or breath alcohol levels are above 0.150 or in cases involving bodily injury, significant property damage, or the involvement of minor children, or other disqualifying events such as driving without a license. You may only be eligible for D.R.O.P. before entering any motions, depositions, or a motion for a speedy trial. If you do not qualify for D.R.O.P., you may still be able to reduce your charges to reckless driving with the assistance of an attorney. It is important to discuss with an attorney whether you are eligible for D.R.O.P. and to determine the best option for you.
There are additional programs that are offered in the Pinellas County court system in which a Defendant can avoid a conviction for a criminal offense:
- Adult Pre-Arrest Diversion (APAD) Program – APAD is a “pre-arrest” diversion program that is available to offenders who are accused of certain misdemeanor offenses. Participating in APAD avoids an arrest and prosecution all together. Although persons charged with Battery, Theft, Possession of Marijuana, and Criminal Mischief are all eligible for participation, DUI offenses are excluded from participation in this program. It was for this reason, when the police officer concluded his DUI investigation in your case, you were not offered the opportunity to participate in the APAD Program.
- Bad Checks Diversion Program – This program permits offenders who have written a check that was dishonored by their bank to avoid processing through the criminal justice system. For example, checks that were returned for “Insufficient Funds” or “Closed Account.” If someone “bounces” a check they may be contacted by the Prosecutor’s Office to participate in this “pre-charging” diversion program. Participants who make full restitution to the victim and pay an administrative fee to the State Attorney’s Office will avoid arrest and formal charges.
- Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVP) – The program allows persons charged with a Domestic Violence Offense to receive a “Dismissal” of his or her charge. An attorney can make application for his client to benefit from this “post arrest” diversion program. Participants are required to avoid being rearrested, pay a $50 fee and complete domestic violence anger management classes. In many cases, a lawyer can thereafter petition a higher court to Expunge your record of arrest.
- Misdemeanor Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) Program also referred to as Misdemeanor Intervention Program (MIP) – This “post arrest” diversion program enables persons charged with non-traffic related misdemeanor offenses to avoid a conviction through the performance of community service, payment of fines and court costs, and the completion of other reasonably related tasks that the State Attorney deems appropriate. An attorney may conclude that this course of action could be a valuable solution to clients charged with misdemeanor crimes that are ineligible for APAD. This include such criminal charges as Solicitation for Prostitution, Worthless Checks, Exposure of Sexual Organs, Lewd or Lascivious Conduct, Theft of Utilities, Unlicensed Contracting or Obstructing or Resisting Arrest without Violence. (This could include criminal offenses charged by a “Notice to Appear.”)
- Felony Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) Program – This program permits persons charged with non-traffic related third degree felonies to secure a dismissal of his or her charge following the completion of community service, payment of court costs, and any other tasks that the State Attorney deems appropriate for the crime charged. A person charged with a Felony DUI or DUI with Serious Bodily Injury, (which are both classified as third-degree felonies,) is prohibited from participation in this program. Likewise, a DUI Manslaughter charge, would be prohibited from participating in this “post arrest” diversion program.
- Felony Drug Court Program – Unlike most courtrooms in the Pinellas County Justice Center, the drug court is focused on rehabilitation and not punishment. The idea is quite simple, if the underlying addiction is properly treated, the offender is not likely to find himself in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. In general, a person is eligible for participation in the Pinellas County Drug Court if he or she is charged with a third-degree felony offense relating to drug abuse. It is quite common for an individual to be arrested or charged with both a DUI and a Felony Possession of a Controlled Substance offense. In those cases, the DUI charge is typically prosecuted contemporaneously alongside the felony drug offense in the drug court. However, the State Attorney’s Office will not permit a Defendant to have his DUI charge dismissed through the Pre-Trial Intervention program. As a result, drug court participants are typically required to enter a plea of “Guilty” to the DUI offense in order to then be eligible to participate in PTI on the felony drug offense. Successful participation in the drug court will avoid a felony conviction. It may also offer a tremendous benefit to an individual who is struggling with alcohol or substance abuse. However, it will not address the ultimate outcome of the DUI offense unless the subject’s attorney is successful in convincing the prosecutor to formally amend or reduce the DUI charge to a “Reckless Driving” or “Careless Driving.”
- Veteran’s Treatment Court (VTC) – This program allows veterans of the United States Armed Forces, including the National Guard and Reserves, to resolve a misdemeanor or third-degree felony in such a way that they avoid a conviction for the criminal charge. The veteran’s attorney submits an application for his client’s participation in this “post program”. His client is required to submit to a mental health and/or substance abuse evaluation that establishes that the veteran is amenable to treatment. The program generally lasts 12 to 24 months and will result in either a dismissal of the charges or a “Withholding of Adjudication” after successful completion. While DUI offenses may be transferred for prosecution in the Veteran’s Treatment Court, the Pinellas State Attorney’s Office does not permit a Veteran to participate for a DUI offense. Moreover, Florida Statute 316.656 prohibits the Court from “Withholding Adjudication” for a DUI offense. As a result, although a Veteran in need of mental health or substance abuse services may well benefit from participation in Veteran’s Treatment Court, this program ultimately will only affect the outcome of his DUI charge unless the veteran’s attorney is successful in convincing the State Attorney to formally amend or reduce the charge from DUI to Reckless or Careless Driving.
How are Diversion Programs Changing the Harsh Treatment of DUIs in Pinellas County?
In previous years, Pinellas county DUI charges were treated more harshly than other offenses. But with the creation of D.R.O.P., drivers who have been arrested for a DUI can now take advantage of similar positive benefits to those already offered for other offenses. For example, your participation in programs designed to avoid conviction would be permitted for serious offenses such as DUI, Felony Battery, Possession of Heroin, Grand Theft or even Aggravated Assault.
There is no Florida statute that prohibits the Pinellas State Attorney’s Office from permitting an individual charged with a DUI Offense from participating in a diversion program, which created a frustrating problem in past years when Pinellas County was not offering such a program. This was complicated by the fact that other Florida counties permitted DUI Diversion (for example, Orange County, Osceola County and Palm Beach County).
See: Washington Post Article: Tiger Woods to Enter DUI Diversion Program
But, in 2021 Pinellas County changed their stance and began offering the D.R.O.P. diversion program.
For an example of how DUIs are treated differently than other crimes, consider the following: In most criminal cases, the prosecutor must prove that the Defendant willfully and intentionally committed the offense. This is referred to in the law as a “specific intent” crime. However, our legal system considers a DUI charge a “general intent” offense. What this means is that the State does not have to establish that the defendant intended to commit a DUI. With this in mind, it seemed that those accused of DUIs were being held to a higher standard, or more strict standard at the least, than those accused of specific intent crimes.
Due to the lack of criminal intent on the part of an individual charged with DUI in Pinellas County, our local State Attorney has taken the posture that although drinking and driving is potentially dangerous, it still should be eligible for diversionary programs and special courtroom divisions such as D.R.O.P.
Even if you have decided to take advantage of D.R.OP., you must still take a serious “defensive” strategy. In this regard, it is imperative that you retain experienced and aggressive DUI defense counsel to investigate every nuance in your case. A good DUI defense team is your best chance for achieving the best possible outcome.
What Should You Do if You Have Been Charged with a DUI in Pinellas County?
If you have been charged with a DUI in St. Petersburg, Clearwater, or the surrounding areas, we cannot emphasize enough the importance of immediately scheduling a free consultation at our office to discuss the unique facts and circumstances of your case. Unfortunately, many people incorrectly believe that they can show up at the court date, without an attorney, and plead their case to the judge in the hope of securing a reduction in the charge. You should know that the judge does not have the authority to reduce your charge. It is important to consult a lawyer to decide whether a diversion program, including D.R.O.P., is right for you.
During your initial consultation with an attorney at Russo Pelletier & Sullivan, we will discuss the facts of your case, your personal background, and your most important objectives. We will form a preliminary opinion as to whether any legal issues exist in your case. Likewise, we will develop a strategy designed to best defend your case and offer guidance as to how we can protect your privilege to drive. In addition, you will have the benefit of watching two videos from our proprietary DUI Education Series. Many past clients have felt that watching these educational films was a tremendous benefit in both easing their nerves about their recent arrest and preparing them for what to expect going forward. We will also help you discern whether you are a candidate for a diversion program, including D.R.O.P. Remember, if you don’t qualify for D.R.O.P., it may still be possible to reduce your charge to reckless driving with your attorney’s assistance.
Why Choose Us to Help?
The attorneys of Russo Pelletier & Sullivan are former Florida State Prosecutors who learned their opponents’ tactics from the inside. Our attorneys exclusively practice DUI and Criminal Defense law in Pinellas County. Our lawyers have obtained certification in field sobriety testing, breath testing, and routinely attend continuing education seminars conducted nationwide.
If you have been charged with a DUI in Pinellas County, don’t wait. Call us today to schedule a free consultation (727) 578-0303