By Angela Patel
VENTURA, CA – During a pretrial conference in Ventura County Superior Court Department 10 last week, Judge Julia M. Snyder refused to grant a judicial diversion for a man charged with driving without privileges after a DUI conviction.
Judicial diversion is intended to help defendants avoid jail, probation, and a criminal record. By completing rehabilitation programs and complying with terms set by a judge, diversion allows defendants to get their charges dismissed and their arrest record sealed.
Currently, DUI cases are not officially excluded from pretrial diversion programs, but many prosecutors, judges, and elected officials believe that they should be. Defense lawyers feel they should not be.
A bill introduced in January by California Assemblymember Tom Lackey would make defendants charged with a DUI ineligible for judicial diversion. In May, this bill passed the California Assembly by a vote of 64-9.
Assistant Public Defender Britney Rossi, in the Ventura case, asked for a judicial diversion because the defendant, Jose Luis Hernandez, only needed to complete two more DUI classes and pay child support fees in order to get his license back within the next six months.
She felt as though the client’s record of complying with probation and his progress in regaining his license were evidence that he would benefit from the diversion program rather than another misdemeanor on his record.
Deputy District Attorney Ernesto Acosta objected to granting judicial diversion.
“This defendant is not a stranger to the criminal legal system,” Acosta quickly noted after reviewing Hernandez’s prior charges, including a felony vandalism conviction from 2016.
Acosta added, “He’s not the type where a judicial diversion would be beneficial, because it wouldn’t prevent all the other consequences of having been involved in the criminal system. He’s been around. He knows what the criminal system is like. He does not make a good candidate for judicial diversion.”
Judge Snyder seemed to agree with DDA Acosta. She said, “I do think I’m pretty lenient with my grants of judicial diversion, especially on the driving cases, but a history like that, and especially a recent history like that, flies in the face of the very reason why judicial diversion exists.”
Snyder argued that “judicial diversion exists to help people who have not touched the criminal justice system or who have very, very minor contacts with the judicial system. It’s not to avoid punishments for the conduct but the collateral consequences that the conviction brings.”
Rossi disagreed, maintaining that judicial diversion was not meant only for those with a completely clean record.
“Even if someone has a felony on their record, misdemeanors later on can still affect their record and make it even worse for them,” she said.
This conviction would have “devastating collateral consequences” on the defendant, she continued, and Hernandez should be granted the opportunity to complete DUI classes and regain his license without another charge being added to his record.
Ultimately, Judge Snyder ruled that judicial diversion just “wasn’t in the cards” for the defendant.
She seemed confident that if Hernandez were able to get his license reinstated, the District Attorney’s office would most likely amend his charges so that he would only be burdened with a fine rather than extensive jail time or work release.
However, PD Rossi was not so certain that the DA’s office would be so lenient.
As the conference concluded, Rossi asked Judge Snyder to note the conversation about the diversion and give Hernandez time to get his license.