In July 1978 the Washington State Legislature passed a new Juvenile Justice Act. The new law revised many facets of the Juvenile Justice System. The one we are concerned with is what happens when a youth is charged with a minor offense. Instead of appearing formally before the Juvenile Court, the youth is "diverted" and seen by a Community Accountability Board.
- What is diversion?
Diversion involves the handling of minor juvenile offenders outside of the juvenile court. Juveniles under the age of 18 who are arrested for offenses up to and including certain class C felonies are typically eligible for Diversion. After making an arrest, the police will refer the case to the local Prosecuting Attorney or designee where it is reviewed to determine legal sufficiency. If the case is legally sufficient it will be sent to a Diversion Unit. The case is thus diverted from the court.
- What is a Diversion Unit?
A Diversion Unit is usually made up of professional and citizen volunteers. This combination of participants is responsible for ensuring that the juvenile offender is held accountable for his or her criminal behavior. The professional staff member(s) of the unit are responsible for information gathering and for ensuring that due process is followed throughout. The Citizen volunteers act as Community Accountability Board members to determine the terms and conditions of the Diversion Agreement.
- What are the juvenile's rights?
The Diversion Unit is obligated to inform the juvenile offender before entering into a Diversion Agreement of the availability of free legal counsel though the juvenile may seek legal assistance from any counsel of his/her choosing. Prior to signing the Diversion Agreement, the juvenile may request that his/her case be heard in court before a judge. While the Diversion Unit does not determine guilt or innocence, the juvenile must acknowledge his/her willingness to participate in Diversion and to accept responsibility for the crime. While this is not a conviction, it will become part of the juvenile's criminal history.
- What are the advantages of diversion?
Diversion is more protective and informal. Diversion is also more convenient, less expensive, and less time-consuming than going to Juvenile Court. The Diversion process is confidential; unlike the court proceedings which are public. The Diversion process is private.
Diversion Hearing & Agreement
The Diversion Unit will schedule a meeting with the juvenile offender and a Diversion Board. The board will advise him/her of his/her rights, discuss the nature of the crime and the surrounding circumstances. The Board will determine the appropriate consequences (penalty) for the juvenile offender and write the conditions of the penalty in the form of a contract known as the Diversion Agreement, which may include restitution to the victim for his/her losses, community service (volunteer work in a public or non-profit agency), fines, and/or a counseling, informational, or educational session. The juvenile is expected to fulfill the terms of the Diversion Agreement within the allotted time or the Diversion Unit will refer the case back to the prosecutor for formal court action. Under specified conditions, the juvenile may be counseled and released without further penalty.
Victim's Compensation & Civil Action
When a juvenile's crime has caused a financial loss to a victim, replacement of that loss (restitution) will normally be required by the Diversion Unit. The Diversion Unit will contact the victim to determine the amount of such loss and assess the juvenile's ability to pay. It will set the restitution amount based on these two considerations and determine a schedule for payment.
The Diversion Unit deals only with criminal charges; the victim retains the right to initiate civil court action for additional damages. In shoplifting cases, a special statute allows the victim store to sue the parents regardless of the actual loss.
Diversion & the Minor Juvenile Offender
The current Juvenile Code in Washington State went into effect on July 1, 1978. It provides for juveniles who commit crimes, runs away from home, or are abused or neglected.
Diversion involves handling minor cases outside of Juvenile Court in lieu of prosecution. It is the prosecuting attorney who decides whether or not a case is legally sufficient to be handled by Diversion. This depends on the type of offense and the number of times the youth has been handled by Diversion. Once a youth has committed more than one offense, he or she is usually considered ineligible for Diversion, and the case is referred to Juvenile court for disposition.
When a case is received by Diversion, paperwork is sent to the youth explaining the Diversion process and advice of rights. The youth may choose to:
- Accept Diversion
- Refuse Diversion
- Consult with an attorney (public defender or private attorney)
Once a youth agrees to go through Diversion, he/she appears before an Accountability Board. If the youth refuses Diversion, the case will be sent back to the Prosecutor for review of charges in Juvenile Court. If a youth consults with an attorney, they must contact the Diversion Unit and advise the office of their decision.
Advantages of Diversion
Diversion is more convenient, less expensive, and less time-consuming than going to Juvenile Court. The Diversion Unit normally conducts its meetings in the evening or at a time that is convenient to the youth and his/her family. The Diversion process is confidential, unlike the court proceedings which are public. The Diversion Unit does not have the scheduling problems usually associated with the Court. Diversion is more protective and informal. The Diversion Agreement is not a conviction and only affects the youth's future if he/she comes back into the Juvenile Court System.
The purpose of the juvenile code is very clear: juvenile offenders must be held accountable for their illegal acts. It does recognize, however, that young people will make mistakes. It is for this reason that minor offenders are being diverted away from Juvenile Court and are required to be accountable to the community.