If facing a misdemeanor charge in Los Angeles County and you’re offered formal diversion it is tempting to take it. After all, it’s an easy way to get a case dismissed without a conviction. But if you are a holder of a professional license in California. And it could be the holder of ANY professional license: real estate agent or broker, nurse, doctor, attorney, contractor. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The list goes on and on and on.
So here’s the thing about formal diversion on a misdemeanor case. It may be an easy way to get your case dismissed without a conviction, but it could still jeopardize your professional license. Here’s why:
In order to be convicted of a criminal offense in California, two things need to happen. First, a defendant either admits guilt through a no contest or not guilty plea or is found guilty by a jury or a judge. Second, a judge has to enter judgment and sentence you to whatever you get sentenced to (in misdemeanors the sentence is usually probation).
With a formal diversion, there is only the admission of guilt. The defendant is then ordered to certain terms and conditions (classes, community labor, community service, fines, etc.) and then after a period of time, the guilty plea is withdrawn and the case is dismissed.
The problem is this. If you have a professional license, admitting the charge could be enough to have a seriously negative impact on your professional license. Depending on the charge, merely admitting the offense can be enough to trigger disciplinary action against someone. It’s not necessary that there’s a conviction nor is it necessary that the guilty plea is later withdrawn.
So what to do if you or a loved one are faced with this situation. First off, call an experienced criminal defense attorney who is familiar with these situations and how to handle them. You may find that for the purposes of your professional license, that you are better off being convicted of another misdemeanor offense such as trespassing or disturbing the peace. It all depends on what you’re being charged with and the nature of your professional license.
Another option is for your attorney to negotiate for “informal” or “pre-plea” diversion in which the defendant complies with certain terms and conditions in exchange for a dismissal. Truthfully, this is tougher to come by these days in Los Angeles County. Don’t let any attorney try to tell you differently.