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The difference between plea bargaining and diversion

You may have heard how some people charged with criminal acts plea down their charges to a lesser offense. It is true that many criminal cases do not even make it to a trial. However, you may not know that plea bargains are not the only avenue open to someone in Illinois charged with a crime. Particularly for first time offenses, courts are open to a process called diversion that can eliminate the need for pleading guilty at all.

Plea bargaining is generally more well known than diversions. As the American Bar Association describes it, plea deals involve a defendant pleading guilty to a lesser or to fewer charges than originally charged with. The process is still subject to approval by a court judge, who may or may not accept it. However, in the event a plea deal goes through, an individual does not have to suffer the uncertainty of a long trial and a lengthy prison sentence.

Diversion can seem similar to plea bargaining in that some forms of diversion do require a person to plead guilty to the charges. However, according to Findlaw, this is not always the case. Pretrial diversions allow a person to be removed from the judicial process and instead enter into a series of rehabilitation exercises. The diversion program may require the person to undergo counseling, complete a period of community service, and show good behavior. A successful completion of the diversion program will usually result in the charges being dismissed entirely, and thus no criminal conviction will be recorded.

However, if the person fails to complete the diversion program, the individual can be returned to trial and sentenced upon conviction as if the diversion program had not taken place. Moreover, a pretrial diversion may offer certain complications:

  • A judge may have the final say over whether diversion can proceed
  • The victim of a crime may have veto power over a diversion
  • Previous involvement in diversion could disqualify a person from diversion
  • A person may have to waive certain protections to be offered diversion
  • Diversion periods for felonies usually last longer than those for misdemeanors

Basically, pretrial diversions can prevent a person from being convicted of a crime, whereas a general plea bargain involves an individual accepting guilt for a lesser charge and for reduced punishment. The availability of either option will depend on the charge, especially if it is a first time offense, in which case a diversion may be more likely to be offered.

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