Spanish Fort to charge for pretrial diversion program


SPANISH FORT – Participants in a pretrial diversion program will soon have to pay up to $1,000 for the service under a under a plan being considered by the Spanish Fort City Council.

The council voted Tuesday, Jan. 19, on a resolution to charge for the program. Most courts already charge fees for pretrial diversion, David Conner, city attorney, said.

“There had been a considerable amount of time that there had not been a fee associated with the program,” Conner said at a previous work session. “The Alabama Code sets forth a procedure by which municipal courts can engage in a pretrial diversion program. It’s done in district court levels, circuit court levels, most places allow for this to be done.”

The programs allow a person to avoid a trial and sentencing by pleading guilty and agreeing to certain conditions, such as drug rehabilitation and paying restitution to victims.

“This would allow, conceivably, this person having to avoid having to go through a completed trial and adjudication process, in effect, they plead guilty, but if they meet all the conditions of the agreement, then adjudication and sentencing is withheld,” Conner said. “And, at that point in time, if they meet all the requirements, then the condition can be set aside and they can be, they can satisfy their program.”

If someone violates the program conditions, the defendant has already pleaded guilty and can be sentenced to jail or other punishments, Conner said.

Mayor Mike McMillan said the city wants to continue the program, but defendants should pay the costs, not taxpayers.

“I think the thought process behind this is that we have been doing this, but it seems that every other city and place has been charging for these and we were losing money,” McMillan said.

“Because we had staff and the court prosecutor and all those that were billing us and I think it’s very much in line,” he added.

Proposed Spanish Fort costs would be $300 for traffic offenses or municipal violations, excluding DUI’s. Class B and Class C misdemeanors would have a cost of $500. Someone charged with a Class A misdemeanor or driving under the influence would pay a diversion cost of $1,000.

City Clerk Rebecca Gaines said the Spanish Fort costs are lower than those charged by many cities in Baldwin County.

“Some charge double what we are proposing,” Gaines said. “This is based on Atmore, which is pretty similar in size to us and I kind of adopted their fees. I haven’t seen any lower.”

She said the program can help first-offenders keep their records clean if they comply with the terms of the agreement.

“That’s the point of the program, especially for first-time offenders to allow them, it’s basically like a no-contest and it usually takes a year, the program,” she said. “If they stay out of trouble for a year and at the end of the year, the record is clean.”