In recent years, courts around the country have offered an increasing number of alternatives to incarceration, including home arrest and electronic surveillance options. For a long time, San Diego County courts hesitated to take advantage of alternative sentencing options in all the most unusual cases. However, judges and prosecutors are now more open to these solutions as they help reduce the county’s overcrowded jail populations by keeping low-risk offenders out of custody. If you’ve been accused of a crime, an attorney may be able to help you participate in such an alternative sentencing program so you don’t have to stay in custody.
What is an Alternative Sentence?
An alternative sentence is an arrangement that lets you be punished for a crime without spending your entire sentence in custody, though you may still need to go to jail or prison for a while. These options are offered for several reasons these programs are increasing in popularity, but the two biggest are to prevent overcrowding in jails and to encourage rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Because judges and prosecutors hope these programs will keep people from reoffending, they are most frequently offered to first-time offenders, though eligibility varies from program to program.
Alternative Sentencing in San Diego County
Judges have a lot of alternatives to choose from when issuing a final sentence. To decide on the right sentence, they will carefully evaluate the facts of the case, the potential benefits to the suspect and society, and any possible impacts on the victim. Judges may choose any combination of these alternative sentences and may even sentence someone to a short term behind bars, followed by an additional alternative sentence.
In San Diego, the majority of these programs are managed by the County Parole and Alternative Custody (CPAC) unit, which is part of the Sheriff’s Department. Here is a list of alternative incarceration programs available in California that you may be sentenced to serve in San Diego:
While most people assume those who wear ankle monitors are on house arrest, there are actually two types of ankle monitors: those that track the GPS coordinates and those that test for alcohol consumption by screening the sweat of the person wearing them. While those sentenced to wear a GPS tracker are commonly referred to as being on “house arrest,” many offenders are still allowed to leave their homes to go to work, school, and other locations.
Perhaps the best-known alternative sentencing option, community service, involves performing work to benefit the greater community, such as removing vandalism or volunteering at a non-profit agency. Offenders do not get to choose the type of community service work they perform, though those with disabilities preventing them from performing specific tasks will usually be given some form of volunteer work they can perform safely.
Community service is offered as a sentencing option for many misdemeanors, including shoplifting, vandalism, and assault, and some misdemeanors, such as drunk driving, even require offenders to perform community service as part of their sentence.
A diversion program is a pre-trial agreement that allows certain offenders to avoid incarceration and having a criminal charge added to their record in exchange for meeting certain requirements, such as attending drug counseling, performing community service, or going through outreach programs.
There are two types of diversion programs:
- A true diversion is deferred entry of judgment where a person does not plead guilty, and if they successfully meet the terms of the diversion program, the charge is dismissed without a guilty plea.
- The second type is when a person pleads guilty, but the sentencing hearing is continued until they complete the required programs. If the person completes the requirements, the charges are dismissed at the sentencing hearing.
Since California passed a law allowing most people accused of misdemeanors to qualify for diversion, these sentences are now the most common custody alternative in the state. While most people charged with misdemeanors can participate in diversion programs, only a handful of those accused of felonies can qualify. If you are interested in participating in one of these programs, ask your attorney if you may be eligible.
Probation is a sentence that allows a defendant to avoid some or all of their jail or prison sentence. When an offender is sentenced to incarceration under a probation agreement, they cannot be ordered to spend more than one year in the county jail. Those released from custody are subject to several restrictions.
There are two types of probation: formal and summary. Summary probation is used in misdemeanor cases and is much less restrictive than formal probation, which is used in felony cases and requires regular check-ins with a CPAC probation officer. Those accused of violating the terms of their probation may face additional consequences, up to the maximum sentence for the offense they were convicted of.
A suspended sentence is when a judge does not issue a sentence or institute a penalty that will not be implemented immediately. These are often conditional and used alongside probation sentences or diversion programs, so if the defendant doesn’t fulfill all the terms of her agreement, she will be subjected to the suspended sentence.
While the name “work furlough” can sound intimidating, reminiscent of the chain gangs of olden times, many people prefer this option because it allows you to live outside of a cell and to be able to see your family more frequently. In a work furlough program, you will spend your days working at your job and your nights living in a dormitory-style facility with other inmates assigned to the program.
Not everyone qualifies for a work furlough program, particularly those convicted of a serious or violent felony. CPAC operates this program, which is most frequently offered to those convicted of drug crimes, though it can also be an option for those convicted of repeat DUI charges, domestic violence, or other less-serious felony and misdemeanor crimes.
How to Get an Alternative Sentence
Some judges are more open to alternative sentences than others, and a skilled criminal defense attorney can often play a critical role in helping to ensure you are given an alternative to incarceration.
The best way for a defendant to ensure they are sentenced to a custody alternative is to get counseling and treatment immediately so the judge sees they are serious about fixing their problems. Judges and most prosecutors are more sympathetic to defendants who take the initiative to get help without being court-ordered to, especially in low-level cases.
If you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges and want to discuss the alternative sentencing options offered in California, call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.