Bexar County’s New Pretrial Diversion Program
Bexar County’s new pretrial diversion program has not gotten off to a great start.
While the new program has brought some much-needed changes by eliminating the application fees and the mandated guilty pleas, it has also created a system of chaos. The new program now requires defense counsel to obtain pre-approval from the court prosecutor, submit a document, then wait for another official approval from a supervising prosecutor. The process can take weeks and sometimes months to get approved. Once accepted and the defendant enters the program, the defendant is directed to go check in with Pretrial Services and told that once they do their case will be dismissed and only be re-filed if they fail to successfully complete the program. However, the State still has not developed an efficient oversight plan for these dismissals and all too often the State is failing to timely file the dismissals after the defendant upholds his/her side of the bargain by checking in with Pretrial Services. The dis-organized dismissal process has resulted in defendants (1) having to miss work/school unnecessarily or (2) receiving failure-to-appears and warrants after they were told their case would be dismissed.
Other complications include . . .
Defendant’s who had been approved under the old system are also at risk of being denied pretrial diversions under the new program as the new administration changes the criteria used to determine eligibility. This has become most obvious in Family Violence cases. Historically, family violence cases had been categorically prevented from participating in Bexar County’s pretrial diversions. However, under former D.A. Nico La Hood, the County started allowing non-egregious 1st-time offender, misdemeanor family violence cases to participate. This was seen as a great resolution for a difficult sub-category of cases that clogged the dockets with “he said/she said” fact patterns that often prevent the State from proving the offense beyond a reasonable doubt.
Under D.A. Joe Gonzales, however, the number of non-egregious 1st-time offender, misdemeanor family violence cases allowed to participate seems to have diminished tremendously. It will be interesting to see whether this trend holds or if everyone is just regaining their sea legs after the shift in administrations. The one clear winner under the new program seems to be non-U.S. Citizens. By eliminating the mandated guilty plea, non-U.S. Citizens may now be able to participate in the program without facing extreme collateral immigration consequences (including deportation and denial of naturalization). It will still be important for non-U.S. Citizen defendants to consult immigration attorneys to verify for sure whether participation in the new program will affect them—as immigration laws are complicated and subject to change.
We are very pleased to have the mandated guilty pleas and application fees eliminated and hope that the issues currently creating chaos in the new pretrial diversion program will resolve themselves as the new administration settles into their new home.