Frequently Asked Questions (VT Court Diversion)

For Clients:
1. I received a citation for breaking a law. What will happen now?
     The citation is a Notice to Appear. It has a specific date and time you must show up at court. You must come to court at the date and time on the citation unless the State’s Attorney has told you, in writing, that you do not need to go to court. If you are under age 18, a parent or guardian must come with you.
     A Judge must believe that a crime was committed to proceed. The State’s Attorney (known in other places as the County Prosecutor) may decide to refer you to Court Diversion before or after the first court hearing.

2. What are the benefits of Court Diversion?
     Participants in Court Diversion can make amends for their behavior and avoid a criminal record.
     A key benefit of Court Diversion is that after you successfully complete the program, you will not have a criminal record (or be adjudicated delinquent if you are under age 18 and cited in Family Division). On the other hand, if you are found guilty of the charge in Criminal Division, your criminal record may limit your ability to get certain jobs, student loans, and public housing, or to travel outside the US. After successfully completing Diversion, you can honestly state that you have never been convicted of a crime.
     Another benefit is that you 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 you.
     By participating in Court Diversion you can take responsibility for your actions and work to repair any harm caused.

See also FAQ #14: 
What happens once I have completed the contract requirements?” and FAQ #15: “Will my record be sealed?” See also this section on criminal records. 

3. How do I find out if I am eligible for Court Diversion?
The State’s Attorney’s Office or the Court Diversion Program will notify you if you are eligible. You may be informed at Court. You can also ask the State’s Attorney or the Court to be considered for Court Diversion. If you have a lawyer, you can ask the attorney about requesting Court Diversion.

For information on how to contact a public defender see the 
Court Diversion Resources page. 

4. What is needed in order for me to take part in Court Diversion?
     First, the State’s Attorney decides whether to refer you to Court Diversion. Then, because Court Diversion is a voluntary program, you choose whether or not to participate. You must accept responsibility for breaking the law. A panel of trained volunteer community members will then decide after meeting with you whether to accept you into the program.

5. Do I need a lawyer?
     You have the right to the advice and assistance of a lawyer at every stage of the Court Diversion process, from the initial decision to participate in Court Diversion, to accepting the Court Diversion contract and completing the Diversion contract. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the Court may appoint a lawyer, called a Public Defender, to represent you. Most people who participate in Court Diversion do not choose to have an attorney.

6. What costs are associated with Court Diversion?
     In order to participate in the program you 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 case may be returned to Court.
You may also need to pay the victim(s) for losses they suffered because of the offense. You may be required to attend counseling, which health insurance policies may or may not cover.

7. What does Court Diversion involve?
     First, you will meet with a Court Diversion case manager. During that meeting the case manager will to get to know you, your strengths and interests, as well as understand 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 may take an hour or more.
     The Review Board/Panel meeting is a meeting with trained volunteers from the community who will talk with you 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 you need to do to successfully complete the program. The case manager will support you in completing the contract, but you are responsible for following through with the contract. You must update your case manager of any address and telephone number changes.

See also FAQ #14: 
“What happens once I have completed the contract requirements?” 

8. 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.

9. What happens at the Review Board/Panel meeting?
     The Case Manager and Review Board/Panel members will have information about your case. The Review Board/Panel members want to hear what happened directly from you. They will ask you questions so they fully understand what happened and make sure you are accepting responsibility. Then the Review Board/Panel will decide to either accept you into the program or refer the case back to Court. In order to be accepted into the program, you must accept responsibility for violating the law.
     The meeting will be easier if you are prepared. One way to prepare is for you to think about how to 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 answers to these questions help you and the Review Board/Panel create a contract that repairs the harm caused to victim(s) and the community when the law was broken. If you agree to the contract, you are asked to sign it. In some cases, the Review Board/Panel may want to meet with you again to learn about the progress you have made.

10. Can I leave the state if I’m involved in diversion?
     Absolutely, as long as you inform your case manager of any changes to your contact information and agree to keep them updated.

11. Is my information kept private?
     Court Diversion is a confidential program. By state law, both the staff and volunteers must keep all client and case information strictly confidential. Program staff are not allowed to talk to others about you or your case unless you have signed a release allowing them to do so. You may be 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 you or any information they learn as part of the Diversion process. Your 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 you is given to them.
     If you do 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.

12. What are typical contract requirements?
     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. If the charge involved alcohol or other drugs, a substance abuse screening or assessment with a licensed drug and alcohol counselor may be required. You are expected to check-in with the case manager to talk about your progress or whether more support is needed. If you get charged with another criminal act, the program may return the case to court.

13. What is restitution?
     Victims may have expenses or losses that are related to what you 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.

14. What happens once the contract requirements have been completed?
     When all contract requirements have been completed, you 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.

See FAQ # 15: 
“Will my record be sealed?”  See also this section on criminal records.

15. Will my 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) you are convicted of another offense within the two-year period or (2) the Court is not satisfied with your 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 articles in the newspaper, cannot be erased or sealed. Some trace of the incident and your 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.

Here is some guidance
 on how to answer questions on job applications and for military service.
 

16. What happens if I do 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”. You will likely need to go to Court for the original charge. If you are required to appear in Court after the case is returned to the State’s Attorney, you may enter a plea of guilty or not guilty.

See also FAQ #11: 
Is my information kept private?”


For Parents:
1. 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 listed here. Your child’s Court Diversion contract will take time and some planning to complete. You can 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, and
        · Make sure that your child continues to take part in the positive things he or she does such as: completing school work, participating in positive afterschool 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.
     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 s/he did was wrong and to learn how to make constructive, positive choices in the future.

2. How does my child pay the fee & Who is it payable to?
     Court Diversion programs expect that your child—since s/he is responsible for the harm—to 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.
     All checks or money orders should be made payable to “VCDP”
     You can also pay online here

3. 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, some parents may minimize a situation, but doing so can be harmful in the long run.
     The Review Board/Panel wants to hear the answers directly from your child. Let your child speak for him/herself.
     If you agree to the contract, both you and your child are asked to sign it.