Vancouver Criminal Lawyers Resolving charges outside court – What is diversion and how does it work?


Diversion is a process in our justice system which recognizes that people make mistakes and, depending on the circumstances, deserve a second chance. When someone is charged with a criminal offence, they have often simply fallen into difficult times, had a momentary lapse of judgement, or acted on impulsiveness. Diversion gives these people a chance to turn things around without the heavy consequences of a criminal conviction. 

Diversion is technically called an “Alternative Measure”. It is alternative, because it is separate from the court system. It is not uncommon for trial dates to be set while diversion is still being explored. This keeps everything moving forward, if diversion is not successful. Because diversion is not an option unless the accused admits their actions, Vancouver criminal lawyers will ask for diversion without prejudice. This means that if the request for diversion is denied, the Crown cannot use the request for diversion as evidence of guilt in court. If the matter goes to trial, the Crown must prove their case as if the request for diversion had never happened. 

Diversion is only available to first-time offenders with minor charges who admit to their actions and show remorse. Surrey defence lawyers or the accused can ask Crown counsel for diversion even before the charge is laid, but it is not a right the accused is automatically entitled to. The Crown decides if diversion is appropriate after considering the accused and the consequences and nature of the offense. The decision is supposed to balance consideration for the individual accused and the interests of society and of the victim. 

Consider a scenario where assault charges are laid against a 19 year old accused who spontaneously hit someone in a bar in a heated moment. The victim was not injured and just wants to forget the incident, and the accused is remorseful and embarrassed about their behaviour. Many people would agree that given the circumstances, the accused should not be burdened with a criminal record, our court resources should not be wasted, and that this would be a good candidate for diversion. Diversion is not likely if the accused appears to have a pattern of violence, the victim was seriously injured, or the accused demonstrated no remorse for their actions.

If the Crown agrees to consider diversion, the case is referred to a community worker who will meet with the accused. Vancouver criminal lawyers can attend these meetings. If the community worker agrees to diversion, they will make plan of action for the accused. This “diversion contract” usually involves a combination of community service, apology letters and/or counselling. The contract must be fulfilled within three months, at which time the Crown would enter a stay of proceedings. The accused will not have a criminal record, but if they are charged again, the Crown will know that they have been through the diversion process. 

Diversion is not an option for serious crimes like drug charges involving trafficking large quantities of drugs, internet crimes like child pornography, or impaired driving causing death. However, in the right circumstances, it is an excellent option for relatively minor offenses like drug possession for personal use, or minor fraud or shoplifting. 

Diversion has many benefits. It takes cases that are less serious out of the court system and frees up resources. Diversion allows for restitution and can give victims ‘closure’, allowing them to return to normality in a more timely manner. It also requires that the accused take responsibility for their actions, and connects them to community, as well as offering them counselling. While not available in all circumstances, diversion can be an excellent alternative for people accused of minor offences, leading to quicker and more appropriate resolutions to criminal matters. If you, or someone you know, has been charged or is under investigation, your Surrey and Vancouver criminal lawyers at Stern Albert Shapray & Associates will consider all options in your defence, including diversion where appropriate.