Several counties in Maine are experimenting with diversionary programs for shoplifting allegations. While these programs can be enticing to people who have been arrested and charged with shoplifting – especially those who are aware of the serious collateral consequences of being saddled with a shoplifting conviction on their criminal history – they are still not for everyone.
What is a Diversion Program?
Diversion programs are complicated plea deals that are only available to certain people – often those who have no criminal background yet. While the precise terms of a diversion program vary depending on the underlying offense and even the county where the alleged offense happened, eligible first-time offenders often have to plead guilty to the charges they are facing. In most cases, their sentence is suspended – or delayed – while they complete a litany of requirements that are mandated by the diversion program, like:
- A probationary period during which they cannot be arrested for anything;
- Community service; and
- Educational classes.
If the diversion participant fails to complete these requirements in any regard, he or she is shuffled back into the criminal justice system and the case goes straight to sentencing.
Maine Counties Offer Diversion Program for Shoplifting
Recently, several counties in Maine have created diversion programs for people who have been arrested and charged with their first shoplifting offense. While Penobscot County's diversion program for shoplifters has made the most headlines when it accepted 15 participants into its inaugural edition, Cumberland County has provided a diversion program for shoplifters for a much longer period of time.
Cumberland County's version, the Shoplifters Alternative, teams up with the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention (NASP) to provide support services for first-time theft offenders, including those accused of shoplifting in Maine. NASP has been around since 1977, is a non-profit corporation, and has rehabilitation programs for both adults and for youth.
Penobscot County's shoplifting diversion program includes classes and seminars on the collateral consequences of a shoplifting conviction as well as information on substance abuse and recovery programs.
How Diversion Program Participation Can Backfire
Diversion programs sound enticing to people who have been arrested and are concerned for their future. The opportunity to sign up for a diversion program and keep your criminal record clean can sound like an easy decision to make.
However, the often-overlooked aspect of diversion programs, including the ones offered by Penobscot and Cumberland Counties, is that they require a guilty plea. If you fail to complete the diversion program for any reason whatsoever, that guilty plea will come back to haunt you because you will not be able to fight the charges anymore.
There are better alternatives to a diversion program: an acquittal or a dropped charge. If you have a strong case, fighting the allegation rather than going through diversion can be a better move.
Shoplifting Defense at WTB Law
Shoplifting allegations may seem trivial. However, the blemish they leave on your criminal background should not be underestimated. While diversion programs seem like a great way to avoid these complications, failing to finish the program can be disastrous.
The shoplifting and criminal defense lawyers at WTB Law can help you make an informed decision about taking a diversion program or fighting the charge in court. Contact us online or call our law office at (207) 571-8146.