By Gary Lloyd
Trussville’s new pretrial diversion program will have a “very conservative attitude,” Trussville Municipal Court Judge Carl Chamblee said.
The pretrial diversion program was approved by the Trussville City Council earlier this month, something the council was able to do after the Alabama Legislature adopted an act authorizing any municipal governing body to establish a discretionary pretrial diversion program.
The program allows someone charged with a crime — usually a first-time offender of a misdemeanor — to have his or her charges reduced, dismissed without prejudice or otherwise mitigated should all the conditions be met during the timeframe set by Chamblee and approved by the city prosecutor.
Chamblee provided a couple examples of the program works. In a theft case of a first-time offender, the program fee is $500. That’s the minimum fine amount for a theft case that goes to court. Those involved in a theft case who are approved for the program must take education classes on learning not to steal and perform 15 hours of community service, Chamblee said.
In a driving under the influence case of a first-time offender, the program fee is $650, which is the minimum fine for a DUI case. Typically, the fine is around $1,000 plus about $400 in court costs. DUI cases that go through the program call for 80 hours of community service and a nine-month drug and alcohol program.
“The pretrial diversion program helps those who have made a tragic mistake in their life,” said Chamblee, Trussville’s judge for nearly 30 years.
There are guidelines, however, and not all defendants qualify for the program. If someone gets a DUI and the legal limit is far exceeded or someone else is injured as a result of the drunk driver, that person may not qualify. If a defendant is in a pretrial diversion program elsewhere and is arrested in Trussville, that person will likely not qualify. If an alleged thief hurts someone while stealing, that person will not qualify, nor will anyone with prior convictions or crimes that involve a gun. There are extenuating circumstances sometimes, Chamblee said.
“There are a lot of safeguards in it,” Chamblee said.
Chamblee said the program helps those who have made a mistake and have otherwise been good citizens. He’s had past offenders come to him wanting to their convictions taken off their records because it was affecting their job and college prospects. In the past, there’s been nothing he could do.
“For one moment of indiscretion or stupidity in their life, it’s ruined their life,” he said.
Chamblee said the court monitors offenders in the program closely to make sure they’re getting done what they’re supposed to. He withholds adjudication until the program is completed.
Chamblee said the passage rate in Trussville is between 80 percent and 85 percent. He calls the ones who complete the program “NORPs” — normal, ordinary, responsible people.
“If it’s somebody that wants to help themselves and learn from it, it is a good program,” he said. “It really is.”
Contact Gary Lloyd at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.