Diversions now offered for low-level misdemeanors

County prosecutor says program for first-time offenders will save money

By Laura McVicker, Columbian staff writer

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Some first-time misdemeanor offenders now have the option to have their charges dismissed under a new program offered by the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office to save money.

The defendants, charged with such low-level offenses as third-degree theft, furnishing alcohol to a minor and disorderly conduct, can enter a new diversion program, which dismisses charges in exchange for their staying out of trouble for a year, Clark County Prosecutor Tony Golik said this week.

The program is modeled after the diversion option for low-level felons, which has been available in Clark County for more than 25 years. Both options are geared toward defendants who are generally law-abiding and “made one mistake in life,” the prosecutor said.

“I see it as not a soft-on-crime approach, but a smart-on-crime approach,” Golik said.

After defendants’ initial court appearance, their cases will be reviewed by a deputy prosecutor to see whether they qualify for the program. If they have a clean record and their case is nonviolent and not a DUI, they will be screened by a diversion counselor. The counselor will recommend treatment options, depending on the charge and their background. Upon successful completion, charges will be tossed out after a year.

Each diversion candidate must pay $260. Taking into account the number of defendants eligible for the program so far, Golik estimates the bill to defendants will bring the county $130,000 per year.

The prosecutor will use diversion counselors already assigned to felony cases, so there won’t be a need for additional staff.

Also, defendants must reimburse their court-appointed attorneys’ legal fees at the conclusion of their case, which will save additional county costs.

The program is already up and running. The Clark County Board of Commissioners approved the option at a meeting March 27; the prosecutor’s office started offering the diversion option April 2.

Laura McVicker: www.twitter.com/col_courts;www.facebook.com/reportermcvicker;laura.mcvicker@columbian.com; 360-735-4516.