According to an article published in The New York Times, the pretrial diversion programs in Alabama counties are being used as a “dismissal-for-sale” scheme for those with money and connections.
Typically used for first-time offenders, pretrial diversions give nonviolent, low-level offenders a chance to escape a scrape with the law by paying a fee instead of getting a permanent mark on their criminal record.
Proponents say such programs also allow prosecutors to focus on more pressing cases instead of letting the system getting bogged down with small-time crooks, but the Times has found many counties’ programs are rife with abuse.
District Attorney Douglas A. Valeska, who serves Houston and Henry counties, has brought in more $1 million for his office over the past 5 years by using the program, including $2,400 for a case involving his son and a friend.
Back in 2011, a friend of Douglas Valeska II fired a gun into the air at a party and then began spraying Mace, eventually fleeing into a getaway car driven by the Valeska. When the pair were pulled over by police, the friend was
When the pair were pulled over by police, the friend was arrested, but was granted a pretrial diversion that involved a fine and probation.
That same year, the District Attorney’s office transferred $2,300 to the Henry County Sheriff’s office to buy scuba gear for the dive unit headed up by the arresting officer in the case involving Valeska’s son.In another case, an Arby’s cashier used a customer’s debit card to buy $14 worth of food was required to pay $2,000 to get a pretrial diversion, five times the maximum rate of wealthier San Bernardino County, Calif.
In another case, an Arby’s cashier used a customer’s debit card to buy $14 worth of food was required to pay $2,000 to get a pretrial diversion, five times the maximum rate of wealthier San Bernardino County, Calif.
Of that money, $850 went to the District Attorney’s office, $100 to the county clerk and $100 to the police. A pair of charities founded by Valeska received $250 a piece.
The Times also found that the ability to get diversion in Alabama is closely related to an individual’s ability to pay up, which runs counter national guidelines on diversion programs.
“Out of 48 diversions, 10 were revoked for failure to pay,” author Shaila Dewan writes. “In Mr. Valeska’s jurisdiction, the poverty rate for blacks is almost triple that of whites, putting them at a significant disadvantage.”
Valeska seems to play politics with diversions as well. In one case, a man accused of stealing money and equipment from his employer was granted a diversion, only to have it revoked when hired a lawyer, Adam Parker, who had cooperated in an ethics investigation of Valeska.
“Mr. Valeska used his own misguided hatred of my law partner against our client and arbitrarily and without cause stated he was killing the deal,” Parker’s partner said at the time.
Still, there are signs of change in Dothan, the Times reports.
After an Alabama Ethics Commission found Valeska had committed two minor violations and fined him $2,000, the longtime District Attorney did not file for re-election. His successor, Pat Jones, was elected without opposition and will take over in January.
Those close to Jones, who has worked with a local prison re-entry group, say he will likely have a more merciful approach to the job, though there is a possibility he will retain Valeska to prosecute high-profile cases.