Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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DA wants a pretrial diversion program

by Rob Ireland

April 04, 2013

ELKHORN — District Attorney Dan Necci pitched a program that would help first-time, low-risk offenders avoid criminal prosecution.

His plan would place the defendant who volunteered for the program under a supervision for a set period. During that time, the defendant would have to stay out of trouble and receive treatment.

After the defendant successfully completed the program, he or she would avoid a criminal conviction.

Necci's goal is to stop first-time defendants from becoming second-time defendants or life-long criminals.

"Make no mistake, at least the way I foresee this, it's not an easy way out for someone who commits a crime," Necci said. "It is an opportunity for us to take a deeper look at them, and hopefully get them some assistance to keep them from a life of crime."

Necci pitched the idea to the Walworth County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee (CJCC). He secured a federal grant, but the CJCC was under strict time limits to approve the program. At the end of the day, the CJCC felt it didn't have enough time to make a decision before the grant expired.

"There is a lot of interest in a pretrial diversion program," Necci said. "Just in the way that we presented it, in all honesty, was my fault."

Necci said he wished he had more time to involve the CJCC with the process and planning. However, he said the setback won't stop the him from exploring the a trial diversion program in the future.

"I'm interested in going forward with it," Necci said. "We are going to explore it."

How does it work?

After police arrest an individual charges are referred to the Walworth County District Attorney's Office.

A prosecutor would review the police reports and make a charging decision.

That prosecutor would determine whether the individual qualifies for the program. Necci said opiate possession charges and violent crimes would not be eligible.

If the prosecutor believes it's appropriate, he would refer the individual to a pretrial diversion coordinator. The coordinator would review the charges and also determine whether the defendant would be eligible for the program.

If the person doesn't complete the program, or gets in more legal trouble, he or she would be referred back to the prosecutor and face criminal charges.

Who is eligible?

Ideally, Necci said he would like prosecutors to look at each individual applicant before deciding whether that person would qualify.

"It is difficult to say who specifically this would apply, but I'm sure this is something that I and the CJCC will work on in the future," Necci said.

He used misdemeanor possession of marijuana as an example of a crime that might be eligible.

"There are a lot of different factors that go into every case," Necci said.

Necci said not every possession of marijuana charge is created equal. There are a lot of factors that need to be considered, he said.

Does that person have previous convictions? How much marijuana was found? Are there other charges involved? Could the individual benefit from a pretrial diversion program?

"We really need that deep look into the case rather than just saying here is a specific charge and referring them all in that direction."

Necci said looking at a pretrial diversion program isn't an effort to decrease the caseload in his office.

"These are cases that we prosecute," said Necci. "These are cases that come through our office all the time. I just think there might be a better way, a more intensive way, to address these."