LETTERS: Diversion program needs explanation

As a former employee of the Stafford County attorney’s office in central Kansas, I feel I must respond to Brian Stucky’s letter (July 19) endorsing Susan Robson.

Having lived in Hillsboro only one year, not knowing Susan Robson, and having met Dan Baldwin only briefly a couple of times, I am not endorsing either candidate. Instead, I want to explain some things about diversions, victim notification and the way a county attorney’s office works.

Let me use the example of someone arrested for driving under the influence. For each DUI case, the county attorney receives information that includes the officer’s report, the level of intoxication, any previous criminal history and a certified copy of the offender’s driving record from his state’s department of motor vehicles, be it Kansas or another state.

According to Dan Baldwin, the offender is not eligible for a diversion if he has a previous DUI, if the blood alcohol content is above .13, or if the case involves an open container, among other criteria.

If the person is a first-time offender and meets the criteria for a diversion, then one is initiated. A one-year contract is drawn up that is signed by both the offender and the county attorney. A diversion fee is paid to the county attorney’s office and put into a fund that is used to purchase equipment and train all the law enforcement agencies in the county.

Beyond that, the offender has to complete Alcohol Information School, perform community service hours, obtain at his own expense an alcohol evaluation, and pay all court costs and defense attorney fees.

The DUI still goes onto the offender’s record. The only thing it saves him is 48 hours in jail as required by law. If the contract is broken by the offender, then the contract is void and the case is prosecuted.

Diversion is offered only to those who meet the requirements and only at the county attorney’s discretion. As a parent of two pre-teens, I pray daily that my children don’t get into trouble with the law, but as many parents know, it can happen.

By offering a first-time juvenile offender a diversion, I do not believe you are sending a message that law enforcement is soft. Rather, I believe it is saying that people do make mistakes and here is your chance to learn from it.

As with all diversions, a contract is signed by the juvenile and requirements must be met. Juvenile records are kept confidential, giving the juvenile an opportunity to grow and learn from his or her mistake instead of having a record that may haunt him or her as an adult.

Not all cases deserve diversion and not all offenders meet the criteria. But when used correctly and judiciously, a diversion is a win-win situation-the offender gets a second chance to get his life back on track, the county attorney has one less case to prosecute before an already overloaded court system, and law enforcement agencies receive up-to-date equipment and training from diversion funds, which directly benefits the community.

Most cases have a victim, and, yes, the State of Kansas wants that victim to be notified of hearings. Due to the sheer volume of cases and the paperwork that accompanies them, victims sometimes fall through the cracks.

I am by no means lessening the importance of the victim. On the contrary, Attorney General Carla Stovall has made great progress for victim’s rights.

It is my understanding that the Marion County attorney’s office hired a new secretary in March and her main responsibility is victim notification.

Not only is the victim notified of upcoming hearing dates, but also given information on programs through the attorney general’s office, such as crime victim compensation.

Please understand there is more to the county attorney’s office than just dismissals and diversions. Because confidentiality plays such a big part, the public sometimes mistakenly perceives that a county attorney isn’t doing his or her job.

As I stated before, I have only been in Hillsboro a year, so I cannot tell you Dan Baldwin’s track record, but Dan Baldwin can.

Before you cast your vote, please look at all the facts. Consider the position of the highest law enforcement official in the county and exactly what that job entails. And don’t hesitate to ask each candidate about his or her track record. There is more to the county attorney’s office than meets the eye.

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