In California, a process called deferred entry of judgment allows people charged with a drug offense to go into drug treatment and have a clean slate if they complete it — after they plead guilty. Immigrants, however, are at risk of accepting deferred entry of judgment because of the immigration consequences that occur upon pleading guilty. A guilty plea under federal law exposes non-citizens to deportation and permanent family separation even before they have the time to complete a drug treatment program.

Under the existing deferred entry of judgment program:

An eligible individual may have entry of judgment deferred, upon pleading guilty to the offense(s) charged and entering a drug treatment program for 18 months to 3 years. If the defendant does not do satisfactorily in the program, does not benefit from the program, convicted of new crimes, or is involved in criminal activity rendering him or her inappropriate for diversion, the court enters judgment and proceeds to sentencing. If the offender completes the program, the case is dismissed.

A person qualifies for deferred entry of judgment if he or she has (1) no prior controlled substance conviction; (2) the charged offense did not involve violence; (3) the charged offense is listed in the diversion code section (4) the record does not indicate that probation or parole has ever been revoked without being completed; (5) no previous grant of diversion; and (6) was not convicted of a felony within 5 years prior to the alleged commission of the charged offense.

This bill would make the deferred entry of judgment program a pretrial diversion program:

Under the pretrial diversion program created by AB-208, a defendant would enter a plea of not guilty and waive his or her right to a jury trial. Thereafter, the court would postpone proceedings in order for the defendant to enter a drug treatment program. The bill would require the court, if the accused does not perform satisfactorily in the program or is convicted of specified crimes, to terminate the program and restore criminal proceedings. If diversion is successfully completed, however, the law would require the criminal charges to be dismissed.

AB-208 seeks to mitigate consequences to non-citizens by changing the current process from deferred entry of judgment to pretrial diversion. While the current law dismisses a case upon successful completion of drug diversion, a non-citizen may still face immigration consequences, including deportation or the prohibition from becoming a U.S. citizen. This, of course, is an injustice to immigrants to this country. Moreover, U.S. citizens also benefit from this law by avoiding federal consequences including the loss of federal housing and educational benefits. This new law keeps families together and helps both immigrants and U.S. citizens.