SB394: New Diversion Program for Parents Charged with a Crime

Jerod Gunsberg, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer

SB394 is a new California law that allows state courts to set up diversion programs for “defendants who are primary caregivers of a child under 18 years of age.” As of January 2020, the new law has not yet been implemented. The stakeholders in each county court system need to meet and agree on how to implement the diversion program for parents. This could take some time.

Here’s a quick FAQ about the new law.

Q: What do you mean by “diversion”?

A: In criminal court, diversion can mean many things. For SB394, it means that if someone qualifies, the court would set certain requirements, and if those requirements were met within a period of time between 6 and 24 months, then the case would be dismissed. Most importantly, this diversion program does not require entering a guilty plea and if the defendant is successful, the case is dismissed and the arrest is deemed to have never occurred.

Q: That sounds great! Is a parent eligible for this program no matter what they’re charged with?

A: No. Eligibility for this program is limited to misdemeanors and “non-serious and nonviolent felonies.” In other words, if you’re being charged with a “strike” under California’s Three Strikes law, you are not eligible for the program.

Q: OK, so far I’m qualified. If the court places me on diversion, what will I have to do?

A: It depends. The court can order a range of requirements depending on the offense and what the court finds will be beneficial. Under the law, the court can order any one or a combination of these services:

  • Parenting classes
  • Family and individual counseling
  • Mental health screening, education, and treatment
  • Family case management services
  • Drug and alcohol treatment
  • Domestic violence education and prevention
  • Physical and sexual abuse counseling
  • Anger management
  • Vocational and educational services
  • Job training and placement
  • Affordable and safe housing assistance
  • Financial literacy courses

Q: What happens if someone does not complete the terms and conditions of the diversion program successfully?

A: The defendant is back to square one. The case goes back to pretrial status and the defendant has to decide whether to take a plea bargain or go to trial.

Q: When do you think this program will start?

A: Tough to say and it will likely vary county by county. The law doesn’t compel counties to implement the program on a specific timeline nor are counties required to implement the program at all.

If you are facing charges in California, do not hesitate to contact criminal defense attorney Jerod Gunsberg in Los Angeles at (323) 633-3423 or get in touch via the secure contact form on this page for a free and confidential consultation.

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