Anyone who is facing criminal charges for the first time is likely to be overwhelmed by the process, the consequences, and the implications. You will likely be wondering how you can get out of the difficult situation you’re in or how to minimize the impact it’s going to have on your life. You may be facing serious fines, jail time, and a criminal record that you didn’t have before and never expected to end up with. In many cases, people find themselves in this situation because of one-time mistakes that they could be regretting for the rest of their lives. Others are facing their first drug charges or first DUI from an addiction that needs to be treated. Is there anything you can do to avoid having to plead guilty when you are, in fact, guilty?
Fortunately, if you are a first time offender and your crime is non-violent, the answer to this question could be, ‘yes.’ Those who have never dealt with the South Carolina criminal justice system may not be aware of their options and may not realize that they could be facing an opportunity to improve their lives, rather than a long jail sentence and criminal record. This is because South Carolina has a diversionary program called Pre-Trial Intervention. You must meet certain criteria to qualify, and it isn’t free, but it could be your best option.
What Happens in Pre-Trial Intervention Programs?
A Pre-Trial Intervention Program will often involve a tour of a prison, a required amount of community service, and an educational program that is designed to prevent future criminal behavior of the type that you are being charged with. For example, if you are dealing with a crime related to drug use or alcohol use, then you will likely be referred to educational and treatment programs associated with those charges.
Does the Pre-Trial Intervention Program Require You to Plead Guilty?
The great thing about Pre-Trial Intervention programs is that you don’t have to plead guilty. In fact, the goal is to have your charges dropped. However, you have to successfully complete the program in order for this to work out in your favor. If you fail to complete the program, then you may find yourself back in the same situation, facing the same charges, and without any more chances. You only get one go at a Pre-Trial Intervention Program, so it’s important to take it seriously and use the opportunity to turn your life around.
How Can You Qualify for a Pre-Trial Intervention Program?
Because Pre-Trial Intervention Programs are only available for first offenders and non-violent crimes, you must start by meeting this criteria. You then have to be referred to a program by the court, complete an application for the program, provide all information related to your case, and pay $100 in the form of a cashier’s check to the Pre-Trial Intervention program.
From this point, you have to wait and see if you’ll be accepted. This usually takes between six to eight weeks, during which time you can hope to receive an orientation notice. If you are accepted, then you will have to pay restitution to any victims who may be associated with the criminal charges and also pay a participation fee of $250.
You then have to keep all of your Pre-Trial Intervention appointments and attend any classes that are included in your intervention program. You also have to complete the ordered community service and any other assignments that are given to you. It also extremely important to avoid getting into any further trouble during this time and to pass the random drug screens that you may be subjected to, based on the program you’re in.
Would It Be Better To Accept a Plea Bargain in Your Case?
Although every case is different, it is highly unlikely that you will get more benefit from a plea bargain than a Pre-Trial Intervention Program. Plea bargains can reduce your charges, but you’ll probably end up with probation or jail time in addition to steep fines, a suspended license, and a criminal record. A Pre-Trial Intervention Program costs money, but it’s usually far less than the combination of fines you’ll have to pay and the lost wages that you’ll deal with if you end up spending time in jail. Some people may initially feel that a plea bargain is the easier way out, because they don’t think they can be successful in a PTI program.
Nobody can make the decision for you, but we highly recommend that if you are eligible for a PTI program, you should take the opportunity and give it your best effort. You can even seek additional treatment and support from your loved ones to help you accomplish your goals in the program and really turn things around for yourself. For many people, a Pre-Trial Intervention Program is truly a life saver. Simply avoiding a criminal record that will follow you around for the rest of your life is a worthwhile reason to make the attempt.
Should You Get Into a Pre-Trial Program If You Really Are Innocent?
The one time that you might not benefit from a pre-trial program is in a case where you really are innocent of the crime, and you haven’t done anything wrong. In these cases, you should be able to successfully establish your innocence at trial. Having said that, you will be taking a risk. It is not unheard of for innocent people to be found guilty.
You’ll need to talk about the details of your case with an attorney, the specifics of the charges and the evidence against you, and evaluate your options. The Pre-Trial Intervention program would be a guaranteed result if you are accepted and successfully complete it, but if you are confident of being found innocent, then it may not be your best route.
If you do choose to apply to a PTI program, as an innocent person, you should not find it very difficult to complete the requirements, assuming that you are not actually struggling with issues, like addiction, that may be relevant to the charges.
Call the Michael Jeffcoat Firm to Learn More and Discuss Your Options
You can learn more about your options when facing criminal charges and the possibility of a Pre-Trial Intervention program by contacting the Michael Jeffcoat Firm to speak with a skilled South Carolina criminal defense attorney. We will help you weigh the alternatives and advise you on your best course of action, based on the facts and unique details of your case.
Mr. Jeffcoat, a native of the Columbia area, founded the law firm in 1999. Mr. Jeffcoat got his undergraduate degree at Wofford College in 1994, majoring in Political Economy and Philosophy, and then went to the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he received his J.D. in 1997. After working in two law firms following his graduation from law school, Jeffcoat ventured out on his own to launch The Jeffcoat Firm in March of 1999.