The Philadelphia Domestic Violence Diversion Program and How it Can Help

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Dec 20, 2017 | 0 Comments

Domestic violence charges are some of the more common criminal offenses a defendant may face in Philadelphia.  The reasons may be obvious because the familiar adage unfortunately rings true: people hurt the ones they love, whether the hurt caused is physical, emotional, mental, psychological, and so forth. 

Because people from all walks of life, whether one is a regular Joe, a professional who has to be concerned about a professional license, a Philadelphia college student, can find themselves in hot water due to domestic issues, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, in cooperation with the Philadelphia Court System, has established programs that can allow a person a second chance depending on both the circumstances of the particular defendant and the nature of the allegations   In the same vein that individuals from different walks of life can get themselves into trouble due to domestic violence allegations, the same is true regarding the nature of the relationship, and it does not matter if one is straight, gay, straight, transgender, or so forth.

One "pre-trial" diversion program that specifically addresses domestic violence charges in Philadelphia is the “Domestic Violence Diversion” program.   The following article explains eligibility requirements, specifics of the program, and the potential benefits of Philadelphia's Domestic Violence Program.

Who is eligible for the Domestic Violence Program in Philadelphia?

The “ideal” candidate for Philadelphia's Domestic Violence Program is a defendant charged with a first-time domestic violence charge that is graded as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.  In fact, a defendant cannot be charged with a felony, the use a weapon, causing (or attempting to cause) serious injury, or sexual abuse.   The charge of strangulation, prior to it being changed to a felony offense in the recent past, had formerly precluded a defendant from being eligible for the Domestic Violence Program.  Because strangulation is now a felony offense, the charge itself will bar a defendant from being eligible.

As importantly, defendants must not have had any prior arrests or convictions for domestic assault, domestic abuse, or domestic violence-related charges.  In addition, a defendant cannot be on probation and/or parole for a felony, have had probation or parole revoked in the past (for other cases), have two or more open misdemeanor cases, have been sentenced to prison for a violent felony within the past ten years, or have a history of bench warrants for failing to appear at court.

Will I be eligible for Domestic Violence Diversion if a PFA was filed against me?

Because domestic violence charges are at times charged when a defendant also faces a Protection from Abuse order, also known as a "PFA", it is important to note that PFA court proceedings will not otherwise preclude a defendant's prospective admission into the Domestic Violence Diversion program.

How will my case be considered for Philadelphia Domestic Violence Diversion?

After a person is arrested and charged by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, the District Attorney's Office Charging Unit will identify eligible cases and defendants.  Because of the volume of cases that the District Attorney's Office prosecutes, all eligible cases and defendants may not be identified through the efforts of the Charging Unit.  More importantly, there will some domestic violence cases and defendants that the Charging Unit may not have given proper consideration as to whether the case should be tracked for prospective admission to Domestic Violence Diversion, and there will be some domestic violence cases and defendants that the Charging Unit may be on the fence about and unfortunately do not receive the consideration necessary to be approved for prospective admission to Domestic Violence Diversion.  In both instances, an experienced attorney will be able to get the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office to approve an a defendant for Domestic Violence Diversion when that otherwise had not been the case.

When an attorney seeks that a client be considered for Domestic Violence Diversion who was not initially flagged by the Charging Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, the referral request must be received by the Domestic Violence Diversion Assistant District Attorney within two weeks of arrest of arrest and/or at least one week before the trial listing in order to be considered. 

Defendants and their attorneys must recognize that continuances at the first trial listing for the domestic abuse charges for the purpose of seeking admission to Domestic Violence Diversion will not be granted unless there are extenuating circumstances.  An extenuating circumstance may be, for example, is if the complainant fails to appear at the court date, or if the defense attorney was retained immediately prior to the court date (although this will be at the discretion of the good, and a absent any reasons otherwise, the defense attorney should contact the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in advance of the court date to avoid any potential issues).

Are there different kinds of Domestic Violence Diversion in Philadelphia?

The Philadelphia Domestic Violence Diversion program, also known as “DV Diversion”, has two “tiers”.  The defendant's prior history of arrests, convictions, and the severity of the crime charged will be the criteria used by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office in determining the whether a defendant will be admitted to “Tier I” DV Diversion or “Tier II” DV Diversion.   

How does my case proceed if I resolve it through Domestic Violence Diversion?

How a defendant's case proceeds and is resolved will be dependent upon which tier of the program that the defendant will be participating.  For defendants to be admitted into Tier II DV Diversion, the defendant must enter a conditional guilty plea.  The conditional guilty pleas means that the plea will remain in “open” status until the defendant completes all treatment and program requirements. 

For defendants to be admitted to Tier I DV Diversion, a guilty plea is not required nor is one made.  As with Tier II participants, Tier I DV Diversion participants must also complete all treatment requirements to remain compliant with the diversion program.

What will take place during the Domestic Violence Diversion Program?  What is its goal?

The goal of Philadelphia DV Diversion program is to address perpetrators of domestic violence against both intimate and non-intimate partners. 

What is considered an intimate partner for purposes of Philadelphia DV Diversion?

Intimate Partner DV Diversion involves cases where the perpetrator and victim are spouses, former spouses, boyfriend/girlfriend, or same sex partners.

What is considered a non-intimate partner for purposes of Philadelphia DV Diversion?

Non-intimate Partner DV Diversion involves cases where the perpetrator and victim have a blood or family relationship.

Both intimate partner and non-intimate partner defendants will be classified into one of the two above-referenced tiers.  The tier determination is not based on the nature of the relationship (intimate vs. non-intimate), but rather, the defendant's past criminal history and the circumstances of the crime charged.

Is there a difference between intimate and non-intimate partner Domestic Violence Diversion?

Yes, the main difference between the two variations is that nature of the treatment that will be required of the defendant to complete the program.

What are the requirements of Philadelphia DV Diversion?

Defendants admitted to Intimate Partner DV Diversion are required to complete treatment at “Menergy”, a batterer's intervention program located in Philadelphia, or at another recognized batterer's intervention program.

Defendants admitted to Non-Intimate Partner DV Diversion are required to complete outpatient treatment in a program whose goal is to teach coping skills to persons with impulse and anger control issues.

How long is the Domestic Violence Diversion program?

The DV Diversion program generally lasts for six months.  If treatment is recommended, however, the length of the program will be determined by the length of the treatment itself.  The program will not be for less than six months, however.

Defendants, whether in the intimate partner or non-intimate partner program, will be evaluated by the Public Health Management Corporation's Forensic Sciences Department, also known as “FIR”.  If defendants are deemed amenable to treatment, they must complete any and all treatment recommended by the FIR evaluation, in addition to batterer's intervention program treatment (referenced above) for intimate partner defendants.

How will my case proceed once admitted to DV Diversion?

For both Tier I and Tier II DV Diversion, defendants will be scheduled for an initial status listing within 30 days of the defendant's entry into the program.  Status listings will thereafter be scheduled every 45 days until the program is completed.

What happens after I complete Domestic Violence Diversion?

For intimate partner defendants, the batterer's intervention program is tasked with determining successful completion of treatment by program participants.  For non-intimate partner defendants, the applicable service provider is tasked with the same.

In addition to successfully completing treatment, defendants must no incur any new arrests and must have no reported incidents of further domestic violence. 

Defendants must also pay any restitution to the crime victim in addition to paying court costs and fines (which are reduced compared to if a person went to trial and was convicted of the domestic violence charges, or if the person pleaded guilty). 

Once the above conditions are met, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will withdraw prosecution of the case.

Can I get my record expunged if I complete Domestic Violence Diversion program?

A defendant's record will be automatically expunged after completing DV Diversion.  The one caveat is that a defendant has to wait one year for this to take place, and also has to remain arrest and prosecution-free.  

The automatic expungement of a defendant's record is rare in Philadelphia.  Defendants who successfully complete DV Diversion, however, are the exception to this general rule.

Attorney to Help With Philadelphia Domestic Violence Charges | Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney

Having to face domestic violence charges can happen to anyone.  Sometimes mounting an aggressive strategy and going to trial is the best option.  At other times, and especially in light an assured positive result if a defendant complies with the program, the Philadelphia Domestic Violence Diversion program can be an good way to make the best of difficult situation. 

LLF's Criminal Law Team has helped countless clients from all walks of life and move past difficulties at home that unfortunately led to criminal charges - Contact us today to learn how we can help.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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