What are Community Courts?
One question we usually here from clients is – What are community Courts? Community courts are neighborhood-focused courts that attempt to harness the power of the justice system to address local problems. They can take many forms, but all focus on creative partnerships and problem solving. They strive to create new relationships, both within the justice system and with outside stakeholders such as residents, merchants, churches and schools. And they test new and aggressive approaches to public safety rather than merely responding to crime after it has occurred.
COMMUNITY COURT IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
If a defendant enters and completes a “Diversion” program, the Court may dismiss the case. The decision on whether to offer a defendant Diversion
is made by the United States Attorney’s Office and is usually based on the nature of the offense and the defendants prior record, if any. Most Diversion
programs require defendants to perform community service, remain drug-free, and prove that they are working or in school. Diversion programs
vary in length from four to nine months. The following summary briefly describes some of the requirements of some Diversion programs but
is not a complete listing of program requirements:
First Time Offender Agreement (FTO):
Offered to first-time offenders charged with non-violent offenses who admit their criminal responsibility. Must perform community service, remain drugfree,
and work or be in school.
Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA):
Similar to an FTO, but more closely supervised by the ERCC. Offered to defendants with few prior convictions.
Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA):
Similar to a DPA, but offered to defendants with more prior convictions. Defendants must plead guilty before entering a DSA. If the DSA is revoked due
to poor performance, the case proceeds directly to sentencing.
Offered to defendants who cannot remain drug-free. Requires twice-weekly drug testing and sanctions for failing to meet program requirements. Drug treatment may be residential or out-patient.
Offered to defendants charged with unlawful entry. Requires defendant to stay away from the area at issue for nine months.
Offered to persons charged with seeking to pay someone to perform sexual acts for money. Defendants must pay for and complete a one day educational
Mental Health Diversion Court:
Offered to defendants, generally those charged with non-violent offenses, who are diagnosed with and receiving treatment for mental health issues.
Offered to defendants charged with simple assault or destruction of property, when the complaining witness (victim) and the defendant have an on-going relationship and the complaining witness agrees to meet with the defendant to try to resolve the matter without going to trial.
COMMUNITY COURT IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, TRAFFIC
If a defendant enters and completes a “Diversion” program, the Court may dismiss the case. The decision whether to offer a defendant Diversion is
made by the prosecutor, the Office of the Attorney General, and is usually based on the nature of the offense and the defendant’s prior record, if any.
Diversion programs vary in length from a few days up to 1 year. The following summary briefly describes some of the requirements of some Diversion programs but is not a complete listing of program requirements:
Substance Abuse Diversion
Offered to defendants charged with committing their first driving offense involving alcohol and/or drugs. The eligible charges are: Driving While Intoxicated, Driving Under the Influence, Operating While Impaired, Possession of an Open Container of Alcohol in a Vehicle, and Drinking in Public in a Vehicle. Defendants enter an alcohol and/or drug counseling and treatment program and are required to attend classes where instruction is given on the effects of substance abuse and driving. Fees associated with this diversion program are paid by the defendant.
Community Service Diversion:
Offered to defendants charged with committing “quality of life” offenses and minor criminal traffic offenses. Some common offenses include Possession of an Open Container of Alcohol, Drinking in Public, Misrepresentation of Age to Enter an Alcohol Beverage Establishment, Panhandling, Counterfeit Tags,
Unregistered Vehicle, and Urinating in Public. Defendants may perform community service through various organizations but primarily through the DC Downtown Business Improvement District (BID). Those defendants eligible for community service with the BID may perform their community service the day following their arraignment (NEXT DAY COMMUNITY SERVICE). If community service is completed the defendant returns to Court at 4:30 pm the same day community service is completed and the case is dismissed.
Offered to defendants charged with regulatory-related offenses. The eligible charges include operating after suspension, operating after revocation, driving
without a permit, and vending without a license. The defendant may “remedy” such case by obtaining the required license and paying restitution in applicable cases. The defendant is typically given 60 days to remedy the problems regarding a license. Social Service Referral Diversion: Offered
to defendants with charges such as Drinking in Public, Disorderly Conduct, Panhandling, and Possession of an Open Container of Alcohol. Referrals are made by Case Managers who interview and screen defendants regarding social services needs. The Case Managers may refer defendants to a wide variety of services including alcohol and substance abuse treatment, employment assistance, mental health services, medical care, housing assistance, and education. The defendant is typically given 45 days to take advantage of the appropriate services and return to Court with proof of participation in the programs and the case will be dismissed.
Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA):
Defendants who are not eligible for any other diversion program may be offered a Deferred Sentencing Agreement. In a DSA, the defendant enters a plea of guilty to the offense and the Court defers sentencing to a future date from 6 months to a year. The defendant is given the conditions of the DSA agreement that he or she must complete before the sentencing date. These may include drug or alcohol treatment, restitution, payment to the Crimes Victims Fund, community service, and/or completion of a traffic safety program. If a defendant successfully fulfills the terms of the agreement, at sentencing he or she may withdraw plea and the government will dismiss the case.