Parents are understandably scared and upset when a son or daughter is arrested and charged with possession of drugs. The severity of the charge depends on the type and amount of the drug, but if your child is a first time offender, there are options available for even a felony drug possession charge. Many parishes in Louisiana (and sometimes it varies from parish to parish) have pre trial diversion programs for first time drug offenders. Under the pre trial program, the district attorney will put the case on hold, and if the offender stays out of trouble for approximately one year, the district attorney will move to dismiss the charges at that point.
Being allowed to enter the pre trial diversion program is extremely desirable since the charges will be dropped if your child successfully completes the program. However, it is up to the district attorney’s discretion — so you, your child and your criminal defense attorney will need to convince the district attorney to enroll your child.
What a Parent Can Do
There are some things a parent can do to facilitate the possibility of their child entering a pre trial diversion program on a drug charge (or actually any charge). Particularly in a case where a young person has been arrested for a drug possession charge and it’s a first time offense, I will tell the parent to do the following:
1. Immediately have your child enter a rehabilitation program or some type of drug education program. You can get information about these types of programs from the probation and parole office in the area where you live or possibly from the criminal clerk’s office of your parish. What you are trying to do here is to show that your child is being proactive about rehabilitation. Your child should enter into a clinic if he or she is suffering from a severe addiction such as crack, heroin or cocaine. For less serious charges like misdemeanor possession of marijuana, your child should enter some kind of drug education program.
You will need to have documented proof – i.e. a certificate of completion from the program – that you can give to your criminal defense lawyer who will pass it on to the district attorney at the pre trial conference. Your lawyer can then argue to the district attorney that this young person has made one mistake and is now taking steps to improve his/her life. Nothing is more impressive to a district attorney than a young man or young woman who shows up with a rehabilitation certificate of some kind indicating that they have taken steps to get away from drugs and drug culture.
2. Another step I advise my clients to take, if it is warranted, is to have their child start taking drug tests prior to the pre trial meeting. For example, if the pre trial is set six months down the road, your child might want to take three drug tests during that time period. Testing showing negative results for drugs, combined with a certificate of completion of drug education or rehab, will indicate to the district attorney that you are serious about rehabilitation.
Meeting with the District Attorney
When I am defending a client against a drug possession charge, I work with the offender and their family to gather the certificates of completion and negative drug tests prior to the pre trial. We will then schedule a meeting with the district attorney before the official pre trial conference. If the district attorney is agreeable to a meeting, we discuss the child’s rehabilitation, present the documentation, and request that the child enter a pre trial drug program at that time.
Handling a first time felony or misdemeanor drug offense in this way is very successful and will cost less money than going to trial. The diversion program completes the process in a more expeditious manner and everyone benefits. The first time offender will have education and rehabilitation to prevent a drug addiction, helping to put the young adult back on the road to a successful and happy adult life. And after the charges are dismissed, the arrest can be expunged giving your child a clean public record.
Don’t Forget to Expunge the Arrest
Successfully completing the pre trial diversion program will keep the drug charge off of your child’s public criminal record, but the arrest record still exists and will need to be expunged. It is important to remember that under Louisiana law, anytime the district attorney does not follow through on a prosecution, the arrest is eligible for expungement. However, it is not automatic and you should remember to go back and have your criminal attorney get the arrest expunged.
One cautionary note – if your child gets into additional trouble within the program’s one year probationary period, the district attorney will bring back the original charges in addition to any new charges. So it is vital that your child avoid any new charges of any kind while in the pretrial diversion program. The district attorney is watching to see that the child can stay out of trouble, and if they can, the charges will be dropped. If not, the charges will be reinstated. If you have any questions about the Louisiana pre trial diversion program for first time drug offenses, you may contact me at my Lafayette office for a free consultation.