The practice of diversion from the justice system was created to spare first-time or low-risk defendants the harsh consequences of a criminal record and to give prosecutors more time to go after dangerous offenders. In southeast Alabama, diversion resembles a dismissal-for-sale scheme, available only to those with money and, in some cases, favor, the New York Times reports in the second of a series. District Attorney Douglas Valeska has used diversion to generate more than $1 million for his office in the last five years.
The money has helped him consolidate his power over the justice system in Houston and Henry counties, where he has presided as the chief prosecutor for three decades. Still, Valeska is willing to offer second chances to those who can afford them. Though his circuit is relatively poor and rural, Valeska’s diversion fees are among the highest in the U.S., found a Times review of 225 diversion programs in 37 states. It is typical to pay $750 for a misdemeanor and $1,400 for a felony. Valeska demands much of the money up front and assesses a fee for each criminal charge, so one defendant facing seven counts in a prescription drug fraud case paid nearly $10,000 to enter diversion. Valeska’s office gets the bulk of the money. He does not waive or reduce the cost for poor defendants, many of whom would otherwise qualify.