Anyone who is arrested and charged with a crime has certain rights. For example, most everyone knows a person is innocent until proven guilty in this country. Even though it doesn’t always appear that way in the court of public opinion, it is true. That assumption of innocence allows a defendant the option to withhold answers to questions that may be incriminating if he requests a lawyer be present during the asking. Prosecutors and the state of Wisconsin have the power when a criminal arrest is made, but they must protect the rights of the defendant.

The seriousness of facing criminal charges can’t be understated. Long-term consequences of an arrest, especially if it leads to conviction and jail time, can be devastating to families, career opportunities and financial security. If a defendant qualifies, the courts have provided some alternatives that may help.

Deferred Prosecution is a program that allows an adult alleged offender to divert out of the formal criminal court process with a guilty plea agreement to participate in the program. The court’s goal is reduced court time, less jail overcrowding and fewer repeat defendants. The benefit to an individual is an opportunity to avoid a criminal record and the criminal court process. Prosecutors will consider the nature and gravity of the crime, a defendant’s commitment and counseling needs before agreeing. This option is only available to first-time offenders unless an exception is made. An agreement can run from six to 36 months, and includes case management, community service and similar penalties. If the agreement is broken, criminal proceedings resume. Other programs include the Alternative to Incarcerating Mothers, Mental Health Court, Electronic Monitoring, Community Service, and the Jail Parenting Program.

Options such as these, when effectively considered as part of a defense strategy, can help the accused experience a more positive outcome. But it’s important to understand exactly what is involved. Talking with counsel as soon as possible may provide the safeguards needed to preserve these options and tip the scales of the case in a better direction.

Source: Eau Claire County, “Alternatives Programming” Oct. 17, 2014