My child received a citation for breaking a law. What will happen now?
A Judge must believe that a crime was committed to proceed. The State’s Attorney may decide to refer your child to Court Diversion before or after the first court hearing.
What are the benefits of Court Diversion for my child?
A key benefit of Court Diversion is that after your child successfully completes the program, they will not have a criminal record or be adjudicated delinquent. On the other hand, if your child is found guilty of the charge in the Criminal Division, their criminal record may limit the ability to get certain jobs, student loans, and public housing, or to travel outside the US. After successfully completing Diversion, your child can honestly state that they have never been convicted of a crime. Another benefit is that your child will discuss the incident that led to the charge with community members and help decide how to make things right. In Court, the judge and other professionals would typically make decisions for your child. By participating in Court Diversion your child can take responsibility for his/her actions and work to repair any harm caused. Diversion can help you as a parent hold your child accountable for his/her behavior and connect you and your child to resources in the community.
How do I find out if my child is eligible for Court Diversion?
The State's Attorney's Office or the Court Diversion Program will notify you if your child is eligible. You can also ask the State’s Attorney or the Court to have your child considered for Court Diversion. If your child has a lawyer, you can ask the attorney about requesting Court Diversion.
What is needed in order for my child to take part in Court Diversion?
First, the State’s Attorney decides whether to refer your child to Court Diversion. Then, because Court Diversion is a voluntary program, you and your child choose whether or not to participate. You and your child choose whether or not to participate. Your child must accept responsibility for breaking the law. A panel of trained volunteer community members will then decide, after meeting with you and your child, whether to accept your child into the program.
Does my child need a lawyer?
Your child has a right to the advice and assistance of a lawyer at every stage of the process, from the initial decision to participate in Court Diversion to accepting the Court Diversion contract and completing the contract. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer for your child, the Court may appoint a lawyer, called a Public Defender, to represent your child. Most people who participate in Court Diversion do not choose to have an attorney.
What costs are associated with Court Diversion?
In order to participate in the program your child must pay a fee. The amount of the fee is based on the charge(s). If you have concerns about paying the fee, discuss them with the case manager as a payment plan may be possible. If the fee is not paid, your child’s case may be returned to Court. Your child may also need to pay the victim(s) for losses they suffered because of the offense. Your child may be required to attend counseling, which health insurance policies may or may not cover. Court Diversion programs expect that your child – since s/he is responsible for the harm – will pay all costs. If your child does not earn any income, a parent may pay the fee and any other costs. However, it is expected that your child will repay you for the costs either directly over time or by doing work for the family.
What does Court Diversion involve?
First, your child will meet with a Court Diversion case manager. During that meeting the case manager will get to know your child, his/her strengths and interests, as well as what led to the offense. The case manager will explain what to expect and how to prepare for a Review Board/Panel meeting. This meeting, with trained volunteers from the community, may take an hour or more. During the Review Board/Panel meeting, your child will talk about what happened and develop a contract that is focused on repairing the harm and preventing future offenses. The contract is a list of things your child needs to do to successfully complete the program. The case manager will support your child in completing the contract, but your child is responsible for following through with the contract. You or your child must update your child’s case manager of any address and telephone number changes. Encouragement, support, and help from parents lead to your child’s success. After successful completion of the contract, the case will be dismissed.
Who will be at the Review Board/Panel meeting?
The Review Board/Panel is made up of trained volunteers from the community. The case manager will be at the meeting. Victims of the offense are invited to participate to tell the Review Board/Panel how the event impacted them. A Review Board/Panel only meets with both the Diversion participant and the victim at the same time when staff feel that the meeting will be safe and productive for everyone.
What happens at the Review Board/Panel meeting?
The Case Manager and Review Board/Panel members will have information about your child’s case. The Review Board/Panel wants to hear what happened directly from your child. They will ask your child, and possibly you, questions to make sure they fully understand what happened and make sure your child is accepting responsibility. Then the Review Board/Panel will decide to either accept your child into the program or refer the case back to Court. In order to be accepted into the program, your child must accept responsibility for violating the law. The meeting will be easier if your child is prepared. One way to prepare is for your child to discuss with you how s/he would answer these questions that Review Board/Panel members often ask:
- In your words, tell us what happened.
- Who was affected? How have they been affected?
- What can be done to make things as right as possible for the people who have been affected?
The Review Board/Panel can best serve your child if your child takes these questions seriously. These questions help the Review Board/Panel create a contract with your child that repairs the harm caused to the victim and the community when the law was broken. If you and your child agree to the contract, both you and your child are asked to sign it. In some cases, the Review Board/Panel may want to meet with your child again to learn about the progress your child has made.
Is my child’s information kept private?
Court Diversion is a confidential program. If your child was cited into Family Division (juvenile court), all information and proceedings are confidential. If your child was cited into Criminal Division (adult court), after referral to Diversion, files held by law enforcement, the Court, and the State's Attorney are confidential. State law also requires both Diversion staff and volunteers to keep all client and case information strictly confidential. Program staff are not allowed to talk to others about you or your child’s case unless you have signed a release allowing them to do so. You maybe asked to sign a release giving the case manager permission to talk with specific people who can help form an accurate picture of what happened and how to best address the issue. Volunteers are not allowed to talk with anyone about your child or any information they learn as part of the Diversion process. Your child’s case manager may talk about the case with the investigating police officer(s) and victims or witnesses without a release, but no additional information about your child is given to them. If your child does not complete all contract conditions, and the case is returned to Court, the case manager will only tell the State’s Attorney information about the contract item(s) that were not completed. Details shared in the intake or Review Board/Panel meeting are not shared with the State’s Attorney or the Court.
What is my role at the Review Board/Panel meeting?
Your main responsibility is to bring your child to the meeting. You can support your child and encourage him/her to be honest before the meeting. The Review Board/Panel may ask you questions, which you should answer truthfully. Out of a desire to protect their children, parents may minimize a situation but doing so can be harmful in the long run. The Review Board wants to hear the answers directly from your child. Let your child speak for him/herself.
What are typical contract requirements?
The goals of the contract are for your child to repair the harm done and develop skills to prevent future offenses. While every contract is different, some contract requirements may involve paying for property that was lost or damaged, apologizing to the victim(s), and/ or completing service in the community. Both the Review Board/Panel meeting and the contract should help your child understand how people were affected by the offense and prevent him/her from breaking the law in the future. If the charge involved alcohol or other drugs, a substance abuse screening or assessment with a licensed drug and alcohol counselor maybe required. Your child is expected to check-‐in with the case manager to talk about his/her progress or whether more support is needed. If your child gets charged with another criminal or delinquent act, the program may return the case to court.
Why would my child have to repay a victim?
Victims may have expenses or losses that are related to what your child did. Examples of expenses include the value of stolen or damaged property, medical expenses, and lost wages. Payment to the victim(s) to restore these losses is called restitution. Restitution may include return of property, money, and/or providing a service, such as repairing property or removing graffiti.
What happens once the contract requirements have been completed?
When all contract requirements have been completed, your child will have successfully completed the program. The Court Diversion Program then informs the State’s Attorney and the case is dismissed by the Court. Cases are typically sealed two years after successful completion.
Will my child’s record be sealed and what does that mean?
Two years after successful completion of Court Diversion, Vermont law requires the Court and law enforcement to automatically seal all associated files and records. Two things may prevent the record from being sealed: (1) your child is convicted of another offense within the two-‐year period, or (2) the Court is not satisfied with your child's rehabilitation. According to law, once the records are sealed, the proceedings shall be considered never to have occurred. It is important to understand that some records and public information, such as arraignment lists and articles in the newspaper, cannot be erased or sealed. Some trace of the incident and your child’s charge may exist even after records have been sealed. Court Diversion advises you to check with the Court to ensure that all possible records have been properly sealed. Ask your case manager about how to answer questions on job applications and for military service. What happens if my child does not complete the contract requirements? If the contract is not completed, the case will be returned to the State’s Attorney to be prosecuted. Diversion staff do not provide detailed information to the State’s Attorney about the case; they only inform the State’s Attorney about the contract conditions not completed, such as “failure to pay restitution.” Your child will likely need to go to Court for the original charge. If your child is required to appear in Court after the case is returned to the State’s Attorney, s/he may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.
What can I do as a parent?
You have already done a lot by informing yourself about the process. Ask your child’s case manager questions and explore the resources on the following pages. If your child is having a hard time talking with you about why s/he committed the crime, you could consider asking a school guidance counselor, a relative, or a supportive friend to discuss this with your child. Court Diversion is an opportunity to help your child understand why what they did was wrong and to learn how to make constructive, positive choices in the future. The Court Diversion contract will take time and some planning to complete. You can your child help in three important ways: Encourage your child to plan how and when the things in the contract will be done. Support your child in meeting all his/her contract obligations — do not complete the requirements for him or her. Make sure your child continues to take part in positive things he or she does such as: completing schoolwork, participating in positive after school activities, and spending time with family. If completing the contract is significantly taking away from your child's involvement in positive activities, let your child’s case manager know.