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Fairfax juvenile diversion program causes confusion for parents

The probation services director of the Fairfax County Juvenile Court reported that parents of children accused of juvenile drug crimes have a new resource for information about diversion programs after receiving complaints from worried parents.

Minors charged with first-time offenses for juvenile drug possession, specifically marijuana possession, are often given the option to enter a diversion program rather than go to court. New laws affecting minor diversion programs, like community service, were put in place at the beginning of July.

Fairfax County probation officials have tried to reduce the number of calls from worried parents by posting an explanation of the diversion rules and eligibility requirements on the county website. Participating in a diversion program means a first-time juvenile offender is absolved from being charged with a crime and can skip a courtroom appearance by meeting with a court officer, instead of a judge.

Not all of the 400 juveniles caught with marijuana in Fairfax County during the last year were eligible for the alternative program. Just 120 minors charged with marijuana possession went through the diversion program; a statistic that not all attorneys feel is fair.

One legal proponent of diversion found that the program benefited juveniles and the courts. He stated that court and jail costs are reduced when minors opt for diversion programs. The lawyer added that a diversion program is a better alternative for juveniles, who are able to keep a criminal record clean.

Other attorneys are concerned that the lack of due process automatically condemns a young person, who actually may be innocent. One lawyer felt that juveniles, often charged with marijuana possession for being in the company of those who use it, are losing the chance to prove that they are not guilty. He likened a juvenile's acceptance of diversion as a form of immediate probation.


Source: washingtonexaminer.com, "Fairfax helping young pot offenders avoid court," Liz Essley, Aug. 6, 2011

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