Alternative Sentencing – The Alternative to Traditional Incarceration
On Behalf of Law Office of Michael A. Schillinger, Esq.
October 30, 2020
Oftentimes when someone gets arrested, the first question running through their mind is, “Am I going to jail for this?” As you might imagine, I get asked this question quite frequently. Fortunately, due to alternative sentencing, I’m often able to answer this question with a no.
But what is alternative sentencing?
Alternative sentencing is the criminal justice system’s answer to the ineffectiveness of incarceration on many individuals. It allows people to undergo rehabilitative services in lieu of traditional incarceration. This grants them an opportunity to address the root of their conduct and better themselves in the process.
What types of alternative sentencing exist?
There are many different alternative sentencing programs that are used in cases ranging from simple violations all the way up to serious felonies. Because there are so many different forms of alternative sentencing I can’t go over all of them here, but I will discuss a few of the more common ones:
Probably the most common type of alternative sentencing is community service. As you might imagine, community service generally involves a person engaging in organized service to the community. This can include many different types of jobs, such as helping at a community center, cleaning the subway, cleaning highways and parks, and many others. The specific type of community service that a person engages in is typically directed by either the ADA or the Court. Community Service is generally utilized in misdemeanor and violation cases, but can even be used in some felony cases depending on the circumstances.
Another common type of alternative sentencing that many people have heard about is drug treatment. Drug treatment involves having a person attend either in-patient or out-patient treatment services where they are aided in confronting and resolving any underlying substance abuse issues they might have. Drug treatment is not only utilized in cases involving narcotics, but can sometimes be utilized in cases involving theft and other offenses. Furthermore, drug treatment is utilized in both misdemeanor and felony cases. In fact, if you are charged with a felony drug offense, you may even be eligible for judicial diversion.
Judicial Diversion allows someone charged with a felony drug offense to participate in substance abuse treatment rather than becoming incarcerated. The statute, NY CPL Sections 216.00 and 216.05 outline at length how someone becomes eligible for judicial diversion, what the requirements of participating in diversion are, and the various court procedures involved. I could write an entire article dedicated to judicial diversion (and may do so in the future), but to boil it down to an absolutely basic level, a person pleads guilty to their felony narcotics offense, enters the judicial diversion program, and then their case is either reduced or dismissed after they successfully complete the program. Alternatively, if someone fails in diversion they can end up with a felony conviction and either probation or incarceration depending on the Judge’s sentence.
Anger Management Programs
Anger Management is another common type of alternative sentencing used by the courts, and typically comes up in cases involving violent acts. Often, misdemeanor assault, misdemeanor criminal mischief, and even some felony cases can be resolved with an anger management program in lieu of incarceration. When this happens, a person enters a conditional or re-pleader plea first. This involves an initial plea to the crime they are charged with and a promise from the court of a reduced sentence upon successful completion of an anger management program. These programs can last weeks or months depending on the severity of the crime and the disposition that your attorney works out with the District Attorney. Ultimately though, in these types of cases the most important thing is successful completion of the program. Typically, you’ll be given a court date for compliance where you’ll have to demonstrate to the court that you’ve successfully completed the program. Then the court will vacate your plea and re-sentence you to a reduced plea, or even dismiss your case depending on the circumstances.
Driving While Intoxicated Programs
Another extremely common type of alternative sentencing program comes up in Driving While Intoxicated cases. In fact, alternative sentencing is a mandatory part of some DWI pleas, where people are mandated to complete a Victim’s Impact Panel to get their driving privileges restored after a DWI conviction. Alcohol treatment programs are often used in DWI pleas, as are alcohol monitoring devices such as a SCRAM bracelet, Soberlink device, and Ignition Interlock Device. What are these you ask? A SCRAM bracelet is basically an ankle bracelet that monitors whether you’ve consumed any alcohol. For more severe DWI cases where the District Attorney is still open to alternative sentencing, they may require that a person wear a SCRAM bracelet for a period of time (usually 90 days) to ensure that they are abstaining from consuming alcohol. Another similar, but less invasive device is the Soberlink device. Think of that as a portable breathalyzer that you are required to blow into at certain times of the day to ensure you are not drinking alcohol. Finally, the ignition interlock device is one that most people will recognize – it’s a device that’s installed inside of your vehicle that you must blow into before the vehicle will start. As you might imagine, trying to tamper with or get around any of these devices can have dire consequences, including finding you in violation of the terms of your plea.
While these are just some of the alternative sentencing programs out there, there are many more, including driving classes that come up during VTL § 511 cases, sexual rehabilitation programs that come up in sexual misconduct cases, batterers intervention programs that come up in domestic violence cases, and many more.
Discuss Your Options With a Qualified Attorney
Ultimately you should speak with your attorney about whether or not alternative sentencing is appropriate for your specific case. If you have any questions regarding this topic, or anything else at all, please don’t hesitate to contact my office at any time.