Does money improve your chances of a fair criminal outcome?

Getting a fair day in criminal court is the constitutional right of all Americans. However, getting offered the best plea deal is not. According to a recent article, a criminal defendant's financial resources might affect the outcome of any negotiations with prosecutors.

Specifically, a program called diversion may not be available to all criminal defendants. According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, diversion is an option that allows criminal charges to be changed, or diverted, if a defendant successfully completes certain conditions over an agreed amount of time.

However, only certain types of charges may qualify for diversion, generally involving nonviolent cases. In Tennessee, for example, drunk drivers cannot get diversion. A defendant seeking diversion must plead guilty, agree to the conditions specified by the judge, and pay certain application charges. An expungement may even be available after the diversionary period.

The policy behind diversion is both practical and idealistic. Logistically, courts and jails are crowded, and diversion provides an alternative that frees up limited resources in the criminal justice system. Diversion also offers a second chance to offenders, sparing them from the consequences that can result from a criminal record.

Yet the article alleges that criminal prosecutors have wide discretionary authority over diversion, and that discretion may also impact the associated fees. A study involving 225 diversion programs in 37 states found that defendants who lacked the ability to pay the fees imposed for diversion in some jurisdictions suffered a harsher criminal sentence than similarly situated defendants with more money.

Our Nashville criminal defense law firm is committed to fighting for our clients' rights. We also offer a free consultation. If you are facing criminal charges, make sure you have an attorney by your side who will exhaust all of your strategic options, such as diversion.

Source: The New York Times, "After a Crime, the Price of a Second Chance," Shalia Dewan and Andrew W. Lehren, Dec. 12, 2016

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Patrick T. McNally, Attorney at Law
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